Margaret Leslie Davis The Lost Gutenberg

Margaret Leslie Davis. The Lost Gutenberg: The Astounding Story of One Book’s Five-Hundred-Year Odyssey. TarcherPerigee (Penguin), 2019.

The Lost Gutenberg is a history of one of the 48 or so extant copies of The Gutenberg Bible. The Gutenberg Bible is important because it was the first book printed in Europe using movable type; the use of movable type made the production of books much more efficient in terms of time and labor, reduced the cost of books enormously, and made the cost of a book something that individuals in the middle and merchant class could afford.

Davis traces the history of this particular copy of the Gutenberg Bible, known as B45, from its first known owner in 1836, Archicbald Acheson 3rd Earl of Gosford, to the present owner (since 1996), Keio University in Tokyo, Japan. The Lost Gutenberg opens with the last person to own this particular Gutenberg, B45, waiting for it to be delivered. Carrie Estelle Betzold Dohneny had been attempting for some years to by a complete Gutenberg Bible; this is the one she bought. While Davis chronicles all the known owners of B45, the core of her narrative is about Carrie Doheny, her hard-won expertise as a collector of rare books and manuscripts and how she got it,  and her efforts to establish a lasting monument to her husband with Gutenberg B45 at its center.

The Lost Gutenberg is well-written and well-researched, and easily appreciated by both the novice and the academically inclined codicologist, and those who love detective stories. 

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