Montaigne Essays Gutenberg Bible History

The Gutenberg Bible (also known as the 42-line Bible, the Mazarin Bible or the B42) was the first major book printed using mass-produced movable metal type in Europe. It marked the start of the "Gutenberg Revolution" and the age of the printed book in the West. Widely praised for its high aesthetic and artistic qualities,[1] the book has an iconic status. Written in Latin, the Gutenberg Bible is an edition of the Vulgate, printed by Johannes Gutenberg, in Mainz, in present-day Germany, in the 1450s. Since its publication, 49 copies (or substantial portions of copies) have survived, and they are considered to be among the most valuable books in the world even though no complete copy has been sold since 1978.[2][3]

In March 1455, the future Pope Pius II wrote that he had seen pages from the Gutenberg Bible, being displayed to promote the edition, in Frankfurt. It is not known how many copies were printed, with the 1455 letter citing sources for both 158 and 180 copies.

The 36-line Bible, believed to be the second printed version of the Bible, is also sometimes referred to as a Gutenberg Bible, but is possibly the work of another printer.


The Gutenberg Bible, an edition of the Vulgate, contains the Latin version of the HebrewOld Testament and the Greek New Testament. It is mainly the work of Jerome who began his work on the translation in 380 AD, with emendations from the Parisian Bible tradition, and further divergences[4] (the Paris Bible, one of many Bible translations in the Middle Ages, is also known as the "Thirteenth-Century Bible", "Old French Bible" or, in French, "Bible du XIIIe siècle").

Printing history[edit]

"All that has been written to me about that marvelous man seen at Frankfurt [sic] is true. I have not seen complete Bibles but only a number of quires of various books of the Bible. The script was very neat and legible, not at all difficult to follow—your grace would be able to read it without effort, and indeed without glasses."

Future pope Pius II in a letter to Cardinal Carvajal, March 1455[5]

The Bible was not Gutenberg's first work.[6] Preparation of the Bible probably began soon after 1450, and the first finished copies were available in 1454 or 1455.[7] It is not known exactly how long the Bible took to print. The first precisely datable printing is the Gutenberg's 31-line Indulgence which is known to already exist on 22 October 1454.[8]

Gutenberg made three significant changes during the printing process.[9] The first sheets were rubricated by being passed twice through the printing press, using black and then red ink. This was soon abandoned, with spaces being left for rubrication to be added by hand.

Some time later, after more sheets had been printed, the number of lines per page was increased from 40 to 42, presumably to save paper. Therefore, pages 1 to 9 and pages 256 to 265, presumably the first ones printed, have 40 lines each. Page 10 has 41, and from there on the 42 lines appear. The increase in line number was achieved by decreasing the interline spacing, rather than increasing the printed area of the page. Finally, the print run was increased, necessitating resetting those pages which had already been printed. The new sheets were all reset to 42 lines per page. Consequently, there are two distinct settings in folios 1-32 and 129-158 of volume I and folios 1-16 and 162 of volume II.[9][10]

The most reliable information about the Bible's date comes from a letter. In March 1455, the future Pope Pius II wrote that he had seen pages from the Gutenberg Bible, being displayed to promote the edition, in Frankfurt.[11] It is not known how many copies were printed, with the 1455 letter citing sources for both 158 and 180 copies. Scholars today think that examination of surviving copies suggests that somewhere between 160 and 185 copies were printed, with about three-quarters on paper and the others on vellum.[12][13] However, some books say that about 180 copies were printed and it took about three years to produce them.[citation needed]

The production process: Das Werk der Bücher[edit]

In a legal paper, written after completion of the Bible, Johannes Gutenberg refers to the process as "Das Werk der Bücher": the work of the books. He had invented the printing press and was the first European to print with movable type,[14] but his greatest achievement was arguably demonstrating that the process of printing actually produced books.

Many book-lovers have commented on the high standards achieved in the production of the Gutenberg Bible, some describing it as one of the most beautiful books ever printed. The quality of both the ink and other materials and the printing itself have been noted.[1]


The paper size is 'double folio', with two pages printed on each side (four pages per sheet). After printing the paper was folded once to the size of a single page. Typically, five of these folded sheets (10 leaves, or 20 printed pages) were combined to a single physical section, called a quinternion, that could then be bound into a book. Some sections, however, had as few as four leaves or as many as 12 leaves.[15] Some sections may have been printed in a larger number, especially those printed later in the publishing process, and sold unbound. The pages were not numbered. The technique was not new, since it had been used to make blank "white-paper" books to be written afterwards. What was new was determining beforehand the correct placement and orientation of each page on the five sheets to result in the correct sequence when bound. The technique for locating the printed area correctly on each page was also new.

The folio size, 307 × 445 mm, has the ratio of 1.45:1. The printed area had the same ratio, and was shifted out of the middle to leave a 2:1 white margin, both horizontally and vertically. Historian John Man writes that the ratio was chosen to be close to the golden ratio of 1.61:1.[6]

A single complete copy of the Gutenberg Bible has 1,286 pages (usually bound in two volumes); with four pages per folio-sheet, 322 sheets of paper are required per copy.[16] The handmade paper used by Gutenberg was of fine quality and was imported from Italy. Each sheet contains a watermark left by the papermold.


In Gutenberg's time, inks used by scribes to produce manuscripts were water-based. Gutenberg developed an oil-based ink that would better adhere to his metal type. His ink was primarily carbon, but also had a high metallic content, with copper, lead, and titanium predominating.[17] Head of collections at the British Library, Dr Kristian Jensen, described it thus: "if you look (at the pages of The Gutenberg Bible) closely you will see this is a very shiny surface. When you write you use a water based ink, you put your pen into it and it runs off. Now if you print that's exactly what you don't want. One of Gutenberg's inventions was an ink which wasn't ink, it's a varnish. So what we call printer's ink is actually a varnish, and that means it sticks to its surface."[18]


The first part of the Gutenberg idea was using a single, hand-carved character to create identical copies of itself. Cutting a single letter could take a craftsman a day of work. A single page taking 2500 letters made this way was impractical. A less labour-intensive method of reproduction was needed. Copies were produced by stamping the original into an iron plate, called a matrix. A rectangular tube was then connected to the matrix, creating a container in which molten type metal could be poured. Once cooled, the solid metal form was released from the tube. The fundamental innovation is that this matrix can be used to produce many duplicates of the same letter. The result of each molding was a rectangular block of metal with the form of the desired character protruding from the end. This piece of type could be put in a line, facing up, with other pieces of type. These lines were arranged to form blocks of text, which could be inked and pressed against paper, transferring the desired text to the paper.

Each unique character requires a master piece of type in order to be replicated. Given that each letter has uppercase and lowercase forms, and the number of various punctuation marks and ligatures (e.g. the character 'fi', commonly used in writing) the Gutenberg Bible needed a set of 290 master characters. It seems probable that six pages, containing 15600 characters altogether, would be set at any one moment.[6]

Type style[edit]

The Gutenberg Bible is printed in the blackletter type styles that would become known as Textualis (Textura) and Schwabacher. The name texture refers to the texture of the printed page: straight vertical strokes combined with horizontal lines, giving the impression of a woven structure. Gutenberg already used the technique of justification, that is, creating a vertical, not indented, alignment at the left and right-hand sides of the column. To do this, he used various methods, including using characters of narrower widths, adding extra spaces around punctuation, and varying the widths of spaces around words.[19][20] He also let the punctuation marks go beyond the vertical line using hanging punctuation, which was used to make the justification of the massive black characters stronger to the eye.

Rubrication, illumination and binding[edit]

Initially the rubrics — the headings before each book of the Bible — were printed, but this practice was quickly abandoned, and gaps were left for rubrication to be added by hand. A guide of the text to be added to each page, printed for use by rubricators, survives.[21]

The spacious margin allowed illuminated decoration to be added by hand. The amount of decoration presumably depended on how much each buyer could or would pay. Some copies were never decorated.[22] The place of decoration can be known or inferred for about 30 of the surviving copies. It is possible that 13 of these copies received their decoration in Mainz, but others were worked on as far away as London.[23] The vellum Bibles were more expensive, and perhaps for this reason tend to be more highly decorated, although the vellum copy in the British Library is completely undecorated.[24]

There has been speculation that the "Master of the Playing Cards," an unidentified engraver who has been called "the first personality in the history of engraving,"[25] was partly responsible for the illumination of the copy held by the Princeton University library. However, all that can be said for certain is that the same model book was used for some of the illustrations in this copy and for some of the Master's illustrated playing cards.[26]

Although many Gutenberg Bibles have been rebound over the years, nine copies retain fifteenth-century bindings. Most of these copies were bound in either Mainz or Erfurt.[23] Most copies were divided into two volumes, the first volume ending with The Book of Psalms. Copies on vellum were heavier and for this reason were sometimes bound in three or four volumes.[1]

Early owners[edit]

The Bible seems to have sold out immediately, with initial sales to owners as far away as England and possibly Sweden and Hungary.[1][27] At least some copies are known to have sold for 30 florins - about three years' wages for a clerk.[28][29] Although this made them significantly cheaper than manuscript Bibles, most students, priests or other people of ordinary income would have been unable to afford them. It is assumed that most were sold to monasteries, universities and particularly wealthy individuals.[21] At present only one copy is known to have been privately owned in the fifteenth century. Some are known to have been used for communal readings in monastery refectories; others may have been for display rather than use, and a few were certainly used for study.[1] Kristian Jensen suggests that many copies were bought by wealthy and pious laypeople for donation to religious institutions.[24]

Influence on later Bibles[edit]

The Gutenberg Bible had a profound effect on the history of the printed book. Textually, it also had an influence on future editions of the Bible. It provided the model for several later editions, including the 36 Line Bible, Mentelin's Latin Bible, and the first and third Eggestein Bibles. The third Eggestein Bible was set from the copy of the Gutenberg Bible now in Cambridge University Library. The Gutenberg Bible also had an influence on the Clementine edition of the Vulgate commissioned by the Papacy in the late sixteenth century.[30][31]


Joseph Martini, a New York book dealer, found that the Gutenberg Bible held by the library of the General Theological Seminary in New York had a forged leaf, carrying part of Chapter 14, all of Chapter 15, and part of Chapter 16 of the Book of Ezekiel. It was impossible to tell when the leaf had been inserted into the volume. It was replaced in the fall of 1953, when a patron donated the corresponding leaf from a defective Gutenberg second volume which was being broken up and sold in parts.[32] This made it "the first imperfect Gutenberg Bible ever restored to completeness."[32] In 1978, this copy was sold for $2.2 million USD to the Württembergische Landesbibliothek in Stuttgart, Germany.[33]

Surviving copies[edit]

As of 2009, 49 Gutenberg Bibles are known to exist, but of these only 21 are complete. Others have pages or even whole volumes missing. In addition, there are a substantial number of fragments, some as small as individual leaves, which are likely to represent about another 16 copies. Many of these fragments have survived because they were used as part of the binding of later books.[27] There are 12 surviving copies on vellum, although only four of these are complete and one is of the New Testament only.

Copy numbers listed below are as found in the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue, taken from a 1985 survey of existing copies by Ilona Hubay; the two copies in Russia were not known to exist in 1985, and therefore were not catalogued.

Substantially complete copies of the 42-line Bible[edit]

CountryHolding institutionHubay no.[34][35]LengthMaterialNotes and external links
Austria (1)Austrian National Library, Vienna27completepaperOne of only two copies to contain the "tabula rubricarum" (index of rubrics) on four leaves at the end. Obtained from Friedrich Karl Joseph von Erthal in 1793.[36][37][38]
Online images(in German)
Belgium (1)Library of the University of Mons-Hainaut, Mons1incompletepaperVol. I, 104 leaves missing,[39] bequeathed by Edmond Puissant (nl) to the city of Mons in 1934, but not identified until 1950.[40] Part of the same copy as the volume in Indiana (see below).[12]
Denmark (1)Danish Royal Library, Copenhagen13incompletepaperVol. II, first leaf missing. Acquired in 1749.[41][42]
France (4)Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris15completevellumSold to the library in 1788 by Cardinal Étienne Charles de Loménie de Brienne,[43] and rebound in four volumes.[44]

Online images of vol. 1vol. 2vol. 3vol. 4

17incompletepaperIs distinguished by being inscribed with the earliest date that appears on any copy — 24 August 1456 on the first volume and 15 August 1456 on the second volume, the dates on which the rubricator and binder (Henricus Cremer) completed his work.[45][46]
Bibliothèque Mazarine, Paris16completepaperThe first copy to be discovered around 1760 in the Bibliothèque Mazarine, hence the name Mazarin Bible, by Guillaume-François Debure and described in the first volume of his Bibliographie instructive: ou Traite de la connoissance des livres rares et singuliers devoted to theology, which was published in Paris in 1763.[47][48][49]
Online images of vol. 1 and vol. 2(in French)
Bibliothèque Municipale, Saint-Omer18incompletepaperVol. I, one missing leaf. Acquired from the Abbey of Saint Bertin.[50]
Online images(in French)
Germany (13)Gutenberg Museum, Mainz8incompletepaperThe Shuckburgh copy, two volumes but imperfect, sold by Hans P. Kraus for $1.8 million in March 1978.[51][52]
Online images(in German)
9incompletepaperVol. II, the Solms-Laubach copy acquired in 1925.[53][54]
Hochschul- und Landesbibliothek Fulda (de), Fulda4incompletevellumVol. I. Two individual leaves from Vol. II survive in other libraries.[27]
Leipzig University Library, Leipzig14completevellumVol. I through IV.
Göttingen State and University Library, Göttingen2completevellumOnline images
Berlin State Library, Berlin3incompletevellum
Bavarian State Library, Munich5completepaperOne of only two copies to contain the "tabula rubricarum" (index of rubrics) on four leaves at the end.[37][38]
Online images of vol. 1 and vol. 2(in German)
Frankfurt University Library, Frankfurt am Main6completepaperOnline images
Hofbibliothek, Aschaffenburg7incompletepaper
Württembergische Landesbibliothek, Stuttgart10incompletepaperPurchased in April 1978 for 2.2 million US dollars from the General Theological Seminary.
Online images
Stadtbibliothek, Trier11incompletepaperVol. I
Landesbibliothek, Kassel12incompletepaperVol. I
Gottorf Castle, Schleswig-incompletepaperThe Rendsburg Fragment[12][55]
Japan (1)Keio University Library, Tokyo45incompletepaperOriginally part of the Estelle Doheny bequest to St. John's Seminary in Camarillo, California. Vol. I, sold in October 1987 to Maruzen booksellers for $4.9 million (plus an auction house commission of $490,000) for a total of 5.4 million US dollars.[56] Purchased by Keio University in 1996.[57]
Online images
Poland (1)Diocesan Museum in Pelplin28incompletepaperThe only existing copy in two volumes surviving in its original 15th-century binding.[58]See: digitized sample page images from both volumes including print (vol.1) and binding (vol.2).[59] It has a blot on page 46 and it lacks a page 217 in Volume Two.
Portugal (1)Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal, Lisbon29completepaperFormerly owned by Cardinal Étienne Charles de Loménie de Brienne.
Russia (2)Moscow State University, Moscow49completepaperLooted in 1945 from the library of the University of Leipzig.
Russian State Library, Moscow48incompletevellumAcquired in 1886 by the German Museum of Books and Writing, Leipzig, as part of the book collection of Heinrich Klemm (de).[60][61] At the end of World War II, it was taken as war booty and transferred to the Russian State Library in Moscow, where it remains today.[62]
Spain (2)Biblioteca Universitaria y Provincial, Seville32incompletepaperNew Testament only
Online images(in Spanish)
Biblioteca Pública Provincial, Burgos31completepaper
Switzerland (1)Bodmer Library, Cologny30incompletepaper
United Kingdom (8)British Library, London19completevellumThe Grenville copy.[63][64] Bought for 6260 francs in 1817 by Thomas Grenville, who bequeathed his collection to the British Museum in 1846.[65]
Online images
21completepaperOnline images
National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh26completepaperOnline images
Lambeth Palace Library, London20incompletevellumNew Testament only
Eton College Library, Eton College23completepaper
John Rylands Library, Manchester25completepaperAcquired for £80 by George Spencer, 2nd Earl Spencer some time before 1814,[66][67]Enriqueta Augustina Rylands bought it in 1892 for the John Rylands Library.
Online images of 11 pages
Bodleian Library, Oxford24[68]completepaperBought in 1793 for £100 from Cardinal Étienne Charles de Loménie de Brienne.
Online images of vol. 1 and vol. 2
Cambridge University Library, Cambridge22[69]completepaperAcquired as part of a gift in 1933.[70]
Online images of vol. 1 and vol. 2
United States (11)The Morgan Library & Museum, New York37incompletevellumPML 13 & PML 818. Acquired in 1815 by Mark Masterman-Sykes.[71]
38completepaperPML 19206–7
44incompletepaperPML 1. Old Testament only
Online images
Library of Congress, Washington DC35completevellumOnline images
New York Public Library42incompletepaper
Widener Library, Harvard University40completepaper
Beinecke Library, Yale University41completepaperThe Melk copy, a gift from Mrs. Edward S. Harkness in 1926.[72][73]
Scheide Library, Princeton University43incompletepaperThe Brinley-Cole-Ives-Ellsworth-Scheide copy,[74][75][76] one of three existing copies in its original binding.[77]
Online images
Lilly Library, Indiana University46[78]incompletepaperNew Testament only, 12 leaves missing.[79] Part of the same copy as the volume in Mons (see above).[80]
Online images
Henry E. Huntington Library, San Marino, California36completevellum
Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin39completepaperPurchased in 1978 for 2.4 million US dollars.
Online images
Vatican City (2)Vatican Library33incompletevellumOnline images of vol. 1 and vol. 2
34incompletepaperVol. I.

Recent history[edit]

Today, few copies remain in religious institutions, with most now owned by university libraries and other major scholarly institutions. After centuries in which all copies seem to have remained in Europe, the first Gutenberg Bible reached North America in 1847. It is now in the New York Public Library.[81] In the last hundred years, several long-lost copies have come to light, considerably improving the understanding of how the Bible was produced and distributed.[27]

In 1921 a New York rare book dealer, Gabriel Wells, bought a damaged paper copy, dismantled the book and sold sections and individual leaves to book collectors and libraries. The leaves were sold in a portfolio case with an essay written by A. Edward Newton, and were referred to as "Noble Fragments".[82][83] In 1953 Charles Scribner's Sons, also book dealers in New York, dismembered a paper copy of volume II. The largest portion of this, the New Testament, is now owned by Indiana University. The matching first volume of this copy was subsequently discovered in Mons, Belgium.[12]

The only copy held outside Europe or North America is the first volume of a Gutenberg Bible (Hubay 45) at Keio University in Tokyo. The Humanities Media Interface Project (HUMI) at Keio University is known for its high-quality digital images of Gutenberg Bibles and other rare books.[57] Under the direction of Professor Toshiyuki Takamiya, the HUMI team has made digital reproductions of 11 sets of the bible in nine institutions, including both full-text facsimiles held in the collection of the British Library.[84]

The last sale of a complete Gutenberg Bible took place in 1978, which sold for $2.2 million. This copy is now in Stuttgart.[81] The price of a complete copy today is estimated at $25−35 million.[2][3] Individual leaves now sell for $50,000–$150,000, depending upon condition and the desirability of the page. Eight leaves (Book of Esther) from the fragment owned by the Collection of the Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York were sold in June 2015 by Sotheby's for $970,000.

A two-volume paper edition of the Gutenberg Bible was stolen from Moscow State University in 2009 and subsequently recovered in a FSB sting operation in 2013.[85] This particular copy had been looted by the Soviet Army after World War II from the Library of the University of Leipzig, Germany, and is estimated to be worth in excess of $20.4 million.

See also[edit]


  • Niels Henry Sonne. America's Oldest Episcopal Seminary Library and the Needs It Serves. New York?: General Theological Seminary, 1953.
  • St. Mark's Library (General Theological Seminary). The Gutenberg Bible of the General Theological Seminary. New York: St. Mark's Library, the General Theological Seminary, 1963.


  1. ^ abcdeDavies, Martin (1996). The Gutenberg Bible. British Library. ISBN 0-7123-0492-4. 
  2. ^ abMSNBC: In the book world, the rarest of the rare
  3. ^ The World of Rare Books: The Gutenberg Bible, First and Most Valuable
  4. ^"The text of the Bible". British Library. Retrieved 6 November 2016. 
  5. ^Childress 2008, p. 62
  6. ^ abcMan, John (2002). Gutenberg: How One Man Remade the World with Words. New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc. ISBN 0-471-21823-5. 
  7. ^"The Gutenberg Bible". 
  8. ^Wagner, Bettina; Reed, Marcia (2010-12-23). Early Printed Books as Material Objects: Proceedings of the Conference Organized by the IFLA Rare Books and Manuscripts Section Munich, 19-21 August 2009. p. 11. ISBN 9783110255300. 
  9. ^ abBritish Library, Three phases in the printing process accessed 4 July 2009
  10. ^British Library, The differences in line lengths per page: pictures showing differences between the Keio copy (40 lines per page) and the British Library copy (42 lines per page) in Genesis 1. Accessed 10 July 2009
  11. ^British Library, Gutenberg's life: the years of the Bible accessed 10 July 2009
  12. ^ abcdWhite, Eric Marshall (2002). "Long Lost Leaves from Gutenberg's Mons-Trier II Bible". Gutenberg Jahrbuch. 77: 19–36. 
  13. ^Lane Ford, Margaret (2010). "Deconstruction and Reconstruction: Detecting and Interpreting Sophisticated Copies". In Wagner, Bettina; Reed, Marcia. Early Printed Books as Material Objects: Proceedings of the Conference Organized by the Ifla Rare Books and Manuscripts Section Munich, 19-21 August 2009. De Gruyter Sur. pp. 291–304. ISBN 978-3-11-025324-5. 
  14. ^British Library, Gutenberg Bible: background accessed 10 July 2009
  15. ^British Library, Making the Bible: the gatherings accessed 10 July 2009
  16. ^"Fast Facts: The Gutenberg Bible". 
  17. ^British Library, Making the Bible: the ink accessed 18 October 2009.
  18. ^BBC Radio 4 programme "Gutenberg: In the Beginning Was the Printer" first broadcast 21-10-2014
  19. ^Television presentation, "The Machine that Made Us", presenter: Stephen Fry
  20. ^"InDesign, the hz-program and Gutenberg's secret". 
  21. ^ abKapr, Albert (1996). Johann Gutenberg: The Man and His Invention. Scolar Press. ISBN 1-85928-114-1. 
  22. ^"Gutenberg Bible: The Copy on Paper - the Decoration". 
  23. ^ abEstes, Richard (2005). The 550th Anniversary Pictorial Census of the Gutenberg Bible. Gutenberg Research Center. p. 151. 
  24. ^ abJensen, Kristian (2003). "Printing the Bible in the fifteenth century: devotion, philology and commerce". In Jensen, Kristian. Incunabula and their readers: printing, selling and using books in the fifteenth century. British Library. pp. 115–38. ISBN 0-7123-4769-0. 
  25. ^Shestack, Alan (1967). Fifteenth Century Engravings of Northern Europe. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. LCCN 67029080. 
  26. ^van Buren, Anne H.; Edmunds, Sheila (March 1974). "Playing Cards and Manuscripts: Some Widely Disseminated Fifteenth Century Model Sheets". The Art Bulletin. 56 (1): 12–30. doi:10.1080/00043079.1974.10789835. ISSN 0004-3079. JSTOR 3049193. 
  27. ^ abcdWhite, Eric Marshall (2010). "The Gutenberg Bibles that Survive as Binder's Waste". In Wagner, Bettina; Reed, Marcia. Early Printed Books as Material Objects: Proceedings of the Conference Organized by the Ifla Rare Books and Manuscripts Section Munich, 19-21 August 2009. De Gruyter Sur. pp. 21–35. ISBN 978-3-11-025324-5. 
  28. ^McGrath, Alister (2001). In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How It Changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture. Anchor Books. p. 15. ISBN 0-385-72216-8. 
  29. ^Cormack, Lesley B.; Ede, Andrew (2004). A History of Science in Society: From Philosophy to Utility. Broadview Press. p. 95. ISBN 1-55111-332-5. 
  30. ^Needham, Paul (1999). "The Changing Shape of the Vulgate Bible in Fifteenth-Century Printing Shops". In Saenger, Paul; Van Kampen, Kimberly. The Bible as Book:the First Printed Editions. British Library. pp. 53–70. ISBN 0-7123-4601-5. 
  31. ^Needham, Paul (2010). "Copy Specifics in the Printing Shop". In Wagner, Bettina; Reed, Marcia. Early Printed Books as Material Objects: Proceedings of the Conference Organized by the Ifla Rare Books and Manuscripts Section Munich, 19-21 August 2009. De Gruyter Sur. pp. 9–20. ISBN 978-3-11-025324-5. 
  32. ^ abSt. Mark's Library (General Theological Seminary). The Gutenberg Bible of the General Theological Seminary. New York: St. Mark's Library, the General Theological Seminary, 1963.
  33. ^"Gutenberg Bible Census". 
  34. ^Estelle Betzold Doheny (1987). The Estelle Doheny Collection: Fifteenth-century books, including the Gutenberg Bible. 1. Christie, Manson & Woods International. pp. 23–. 
  35. ^"British Library — Incunabula Short Title Catalogue". Retrieved 12 June 2016. 
  36. ^Das Antiquariat ... (in German). 7. W. Krieg. 1951. pp. 122–.  
  37. ^ abBettina Wagner; Marcia Reed (23 December 2010).
Gutenberg Bible at the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library.
First page of the first volume: The Epistle of St. Jerome from the University of Texas copy. The page has 40 lines.
Locations of known complete Gutenberg Bibles.
Binding of the copy at the University of Texas at Austin

The Gutenberg Bible (better called Gutenberg-Fust Bible), the first large-scale production of the newly developed system of typographic printing, was completed in Mainz in 1455. Perhaps 180 copies were printed of this Latin Bible, available for purchase in either vellum copies (about a quarter of the edition run) or paper.

Each purchaser received the sheets of an intrinsically two-volume work in what is called Royal folio format, with leaf dimensions of roughly 40-41 cm in height and 29 cm in width: 324 leaves for the first volume, 319 for the second. Before they could be used, these Bible sheets had to be finished with hand rubrication supplying book, prologue and psalm tituli, initial letters, chapter numbers, and headlines; and then had to be bound. If purchasers wanted to pay extra they could further commission illuminated initials and borders. These features were typically supplied at the places where the various copies were sold, and not in the Mainz printing shop. The localizing features of illuminations and bindings, and various old ownership inscriptions, document that the Gutenberg Bible was sold widely outside the region of Mainz, with copies going to Southern Germany, Austria, Central Europe, Scandinavia, the Low Countries, and Spain. Because copies were sent to the Low Countries, it is not surprising that at least two copies, both printed on vellum, made their way across the North Sea to England. One is a beautiful copy now at Lambeth Palace Library, of which only the New Testament is preserved; the other vellum copy, illuminated in London, survives as a single leaf used as a binding wrapper, discovered in the late seventeenth or early eighteenth century by John Bagford and now in the British Library.

The next surviving copy that we know to have reached the British Isles is that acquired, at an uncertain date in the early eighteenth century, by Charles Hope (1681-1742), first Earl of Hopetoun, and first resident of the grandly constructed Hopetoun House in Linlithgowshire. It is more rumor than established fact that the young Charles Hope, granted a peerage in 1704, bought rare books from the Jesuit college in Strasbourg. But there must be a kernel of truth, for a number of fine Hopetoun incunables have early Strasbourg provenances, especially of the old collegiate church, turned Protestant in the sixteenth century, of Saint-Pierre-le-jeune. When Hope acquired this Bible it would not have been thought of as the Gutenberg Bible, but only as an ancient printed Bible: as the spine labels put it, ‘BIBLIA LATINA EDIT. ANTIQ.’ The Hopetoun books descended to John Hope, seventh Earl and subsequently Marquess of Linlithgow. In February 1889, the year he sailed to Australia to assume the governorship of Victoria, Hope put the library’s rarities up for sale at Sotheby’s. Neither he nor anyone else had any idea that the family library included a Gutenberg Bible. Tom Hodge of Sotheby’s discovered it in a neglected cupboard as he was packing up the library for shipment to London. In the saleroom the Hopetoun Gutenberg Bible was bought by Bernard Quaritch, who in April featured it, with an unusually long description, in his Rough List no. 96, offering it at a modest markup of £250 above the hammer price of £2,000.

The purchaser was a Cambridge graduate, the London barrister Arthur William Young, who had matriculated at Trinity College in 1872. His family was well-off through its banking connections, and Young’s older brother Charles Edward Baring Young, likewise a Trinity graduate and for some years M.P., was prominent as a philanthropist, particularly to the poor youth of London. In 1911 Seymour De Ricci, in his census of copies of early Mainz printing, was clearly aware of Young’s ownership of the copy, but respected his wish for anonymity. Paul Schwenke’s Gutenberg Bible census, published posthumously, does name “A. W. Young, London” as the owner. The detail of the description suggests that Schwenke had either examined it or received a full account from its owner, and so we may suppose that Young gave permission for his name to be revealed in this place.

Forty-four years after his purchase of the Gutenberg Bible, in 1933, Young donated it to Cambridge University Library, together with many other printed books and medieval manuscripts from his small but valuable collection, which concentrated on the Bible. Among the manuscripts were five Wycliffite Bible manuscripts, representing both the earlier and revised versions. The incunable Bibles included a vellum copy of the 1462 Bible of Fust and Schöffer, of which the University Library held before this only a large fragment on paper; Schöffer’s 1472 Bible; four German Bibles, a Hebrew Bible, two French, a Dutch and an Italian Bible. Other significant incunables in Young’s gift are two of the three 1472-dated editions of Dante’s Commedia, and Caxton’s Golden Legend of 1483 which, though rather cut down, is one of a scant handful of textually complete copies. In sum, Young’s gift was the most important made to the University Library since 1714, when George I purchased for the university the massive library of John Moore, Bishop of Ely.

The interest of Cambridge’s Gutenberg Bible was magnified some fifty years after Young’s gift, when it was noticed that this copy had been carefully marked up and used as setting copy for the third of three Latin Bibles printed in Strasbourg by Heinrich Eggestein, and completed in late 1469 or early 1470. On every page of the Bible are small marginal hash-marks, pointing to unobtrusive vertical strokes within lines of the text, these strokes corresponding exactly, with a few indicative errors, to the page endings of Eggestein’s edition. Moreover, again in a small neat hand, there are in various books of the Bible (Luke, Acts, and a few others) marginal variant readings which Eggestein’s compositors introduced into their settings. In other words, the text of Eggestein’s third Vulgate Bible drew partially on a second, manuscript source. Presumably this hidden manuscript was also the source of variant readings in other books (1-2 Samuel, Minor Prophets, Psalms) that, although not entered marginally in the Gutenberg Bible, were nonetheless brought into Eggestein’s text, perhaps at a correction stage. These hundreds of small changes did not systematically improve on the Gutenberg Bible’s text, but they are the earliest example of editorial work on that text, and Eggestein apparently took pride in this. A printed broadside advertisement for his edition survives, in which he boasted that the edition had been ‘collated by men deep-dyed in humane letters’.

The discovery that the Hopetoun-Young copy of the Gutenberg Bible had been used as setting copy in a Strasbourg printing shop of the late 1460s brings us back to that unsubstantiated story of a Hopetoun purchase from the Jesuit College of Strasbourg. The Jesuit College was a late seventeenth-century establishment, and it is unlikely that its library would have had incunables and medieval manuscripts unless they had been brought there from some older, defunct religious house. Moreover, many of the Hopetoun incunables were fine Italian classical editions that could hardly have all made their way to Strasbourg by the early eighteenth century. Still, the Gutenberg Bible alone shows that at least one strand of the Hopetoun incunable collection led through Strasbourg. This Bible moved from its place of printing, Mainz, to Strasbourg and then remained there, unsold, for well over a decade. While in Strasbourg it underwent various stages of treatment and use. First (as the placement of the compositor marks and variant readings show), the major initials were illuminated in Strasbourg. Second, variant readings were neatly entered in a small hand in the margins of many pages. Third, the still unbound quires were separated into groups, and given out to at least four compositors in Eggestein’s shop to use as copy for their typesetting of a new edition. The compositors were presumably instructed to treat their copy with care and to keep it fresh, for the pages show little or no sign of having been handled apart from the small hash marks and vertical strokes. Fourth, probably in early 1470, after the compositors were done with their work (again as shown by the placements of the hash marks), the copy was carefully rubricated including the supply of all the initials which had not already been illuminated; bound; and sold. Where the copy remained for the next quarter-millennium before it ended up in Scotland cannot be known for sure, but by far the likeliest place is Strasbourg itself.


Essay by Paul Needham, Librarian at the Scheide Library, Princeton University.

0 thoughts on “Montaigne Essays Gutenberg Bible History”


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *