A leaf from the 42-line Gutenberg-Bible – the first book ever printed from movable type
31 Biblia Latina – A single leaf[Mainz: Johann Gutenberg and Johann Fust, ‘c. 1454/55’; rather 1452-54?]. First edition of the Latin Bible.
2°, 390 x 285 mm. Leaf 8 of quire 7 (= vol. I, leaf 68). Paper with bull’s head watermark. – Two columns of 42 lines.Textura.With rubricated headlines (lombard capitals in red and blue alternating), capital strokes, and a 2-line chapter initial L. – Excellent condition, no worming, slightly corrugated margins, almost no browning, inner margin strengthened.
PROVENANCE: 1. From the incomplete copy of Maria Elisabeth Augusta von Sulzbach (1721-1794), wife of Karl Theodor, Electoral Prince of the Palatinate, subsequently Electoral Prince of Bavaria (1724-1799). 2. Mannheim Court Library. After Karl Theodor’s death to 3. Munich, Royal Library, sold as a duplicate in 1832. 4. Later on in the possession of Robert Curzon, 14th baron Zouche (1810-1873) by descent to 5. Baroness Zouche of Haryngworth. 6. Sotheby’s, 9th November 1920 (Zouche sale), n° 70. 7. Joseph Sabin, sold to 8. Gabriel Wells, who broke up the copy, dispersing it in single leaves or larger fragments. 9. Private collection, Germany.
TEXT: This leaf contains the text of Numbers 7.38-8.12; Numbers 8.1 beginning with red initial L: Locutus est dominus ad moysen, dicens. Schneider suggests that Gutenberg probably used a 14thcentury vulgate bible manuscript as a model for his B 42, very much like those that were common at Paris university (Schneider, C. 2000, p. 197). Thus, Gutenberg offered his clients the version of the bible most widely used throughout Europe.
PRINT: The Gutenberg Bible, first edition of the Vulgata and the first substantial printed book of the Western World, is a work of art whose majestic craftsmanship has never been surpassed. It must have been finished in 1454-55, according to a rubricator’s note in the Mazarin copy in Paris, but there is recent evidence that printing began in 1452 and was finished in late 1453 or early 1454 (Meuthen 1982).The Bible is printed in two volumes, 1284 pages, set in two columns of type (designed in a later Gothic textura, as traditionally used for liturgic texts). After the number of lines per column this edition is named the 42-line Bible, in order to distinguish it from the 36-line Bible, which appeared a few years later.
PRINTER: Other technicians had also been searching for mechanical means to produce script, but only Johann Gutenberg (c. 1397-1468) resolved and synthesized the innumerable technical problems into an ingenious, workable method that has withstood the test of time; so much so that the various processes, manual operations, and the presses themselves became standard practice for the next 350 years. The heart of the invention of printing is the principle of movable type. As a goldsmith, Gutenberg was familiar with the cutting of punches, and matrices, with moulds for casting and metal alloys, etc. For book printing this meant the capacity to put each letter of the alphabet on an individual tiny piece of metal. Gutenberg’s font consisted of about 290 different characters, among them 47 capitals, 63 lowercase letters, and many ligatures, abbreviations, punctuation marks, etc.These type characters were then set together by hand in unlimited combinations of words and pages, printed from, re-distributed after printing, and used again and again in subsequent work. Each of these bits of metal had to be precision-made to align letter for letter, to be capable of locking for press, and to be of sufficient hardness to withstand many thousands of impressions, printed and reprinted. Gutenberg’s presses, developed for sustained, heavy-duty printing, were no doubt modelled on the wine presses of his wine-growing region. We know from documents, the most important of which is the Helmaspergersche Notariatsinstrument of November 1455, that in 1450 and 1452 Gutenberg borrowed heavily from the financier Johann Fust, who, with the second loan, invoked a partnership ‘in the production of books’ (“werk der bücher”). Gutenberg was unable to repay the loans of 1600 German guilders before he could finish and sell the Bibles then in press. Fust foreclosed in 1455 and evidently took ownership of many of those possessions Gutenberg had spent his lifetime to acquire. Fust then took into partnership Gutenberg’s best employee, Peter Schöffer of Gernsheim, who later married Fust’s daughter, and with these assets went on to become one of the great printers and a successful publisher.
RARITY: The Gutenberg Bible was printed in an edition of, probably, 35 copies on vellum and 150 copies on paper. 48 copies have survived, only 20 of them complete (cf. White 2000), in addition c. 65 single leafs and fragments are kept in 30 collections worldwide (according to ISTC).
LITERATURE: Hain 1826, 3031; BMC I, p. 17; De Ricci 1911, no. 34; GW 4201 (“about 1454/55, not after August 1456”); Goff 1964, B-526; Meuthen 1982; Carter/Muir 21983, no. 1; exh. cat. Boston 2000, no. 63; Schneider, C. 2000;White 2000; ISTC ib00526000. Facsimiles: Leipzig 1913-1914, commented by P. Schwenke in 1923; New York 1960; Munich 1979, commented by S. Corsten, I. Hubay and others.