The Gutenberg Bible

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Johann Gutenberg

Johann Gutenberg (c. 1400–1468) is most famous for successfully implementing movable type in Europe and subsequently printing c. 1455 in Mainz, Germany, the Gutenberg Bible.[ref]The date is partially based on a reference dated to August 14, 1456 where the Pope reports hearing about about Bible that is generally argeed to have been a Gutenberg Bible.[/ref] Gutenberg did not work alone; he and his associates, Johann Fust (c. 1400–1466) and Fust’s apprentice (and later business partner) Peter Schoeffer employed numerous people in their print shop and type workshop in Mainz. They managed to print roughly 150 copies of the Gutenberg Bible, of which less than c. 48 copies are currently known to exist.[ref]The numbers of extant Gutenberg Bibles are given, variously as “less than 50,” “48” and “50”. The best raw data I can find online is via Clausen Books’ Gutenberg Bible Census. The British Library puts it this way: “Only 48 copies are known to have survived, of which 12 are printed on vellum and 36 on paper. Twenty are complete, two of them at the British Library.”[/ref]

Opening of Genesis from the British Library's paper Gutenberg Bible showing hand-iluminated decorations
British Library Gutenberg Bible Volume 1 Folio 5r

Of those copies some were printed on vellum (perhaps a quarter of them) but most were printed on paper. There are four extant completely preserved copies on vellum, in the British Library in London, the Library of Congress in Washington and the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, and the Göttingen State and University Library, Göttingen, Germany. Vellum, made from the skin of calves, was expensive and the Gutenberg Bible likely required the skin of 17 calves, and weighs about 15 lbs per volume.[ref]The Lost Gutenberg[/ref]

There are in addition a number of partial Gutenberg Bibles in the form of fragments and single leaves. In this case, most of the fragments derive not from the ravages of time, but from the efforts of booksellers to capitalize on their acquisition of a single volume of a Gutenberg Bible. The New York rare book dealer, Gabriel Wells, in 1921 bought a damaged paper copy, dismantled the book and sold sections and individual leaves to book collectors and libraries. They were encased in a special portfolio and accompanied by an explanatory essay by A. Edward Newton and branded as “Noble fragments.”

In 1953 Charles Scribner’s Sons, another antiquarian book seller in New York dismantled a paper copy of Volume II containing The New Testament. Most of this New Testament is in the Lilly Library, Indiana University, to whom Scribner sold the largest section of the book; it is missing 11 leaves.[ref]Gutenberg Bible Census[/ref] The matching first volume of this Gutenberg Bible is in the Library of the University of Mons-Hainaut, Belgium, and is missing 104 leaves.

In earlier eras the Gutenberg Bible was known as the Mazarine Bible, after the Mazarine library where the Gutenberg Bible was re-discovered. The Gutenberg Bible is also frequently known as the 42-line Bible, since most of the pages contain 42 lines of very black Gothic type printed in two columns. The Gutenberg Bible was and sometimes still referred to as a B42 (B for Bible; 42 for the lines of text).

The textof the Gutenberg Bible is based on the fourth century Latin text of Jerome’s Vulgate (including the standard prefaces of Jerome’s text). These are not small book; typical dimensions of an untrimmed leaf were about  40–41 cm in height and 29 cm in width. After the leaves were printed using Gutenberg’s unique formulation of an oily, varnish-like metal-based ink, the buyer received a stack of unbound leaves (though probably from a third party and not from the printer).

The leaves were meant to be decorated by artists, adding decoration and color to book, prologue and psalm titles, initial letters, chapter numbers, and headlines at the top of the pages naming the book (or preface). The decorations range from colored rubrics and initial capitals to more complex illuminations, some of which included gold burnishing (and costing considerably more). According to The Morgan Library “A complete Gutenberg Bible contains 3,945 rubrics as well as 72 six-line initials, 3 five-line initials, 61 four-line initials, 11 three-line initials, 1,292 two-line initials, and 2,509 one-line initials.”[ref]Ornamentation[/ref] Early in Gutenberg’s workflow red headlines at the top of each chapter identifying the book of the Bible were printed, which meant that the sheets were passed through the press a second time, once for the black ink, and again for the red headline. This was abandoned before too long, (for some obvious reasons related to complications and human error) and instead off-site human decorative artists known as rubricators were employed.[ref]The British Library notes that “Gutenberg provided assistance for the rubricators by producing four leaves of instructions. Two copies of the instruction sheets survive: in Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, and in Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek.”[/ref] Most of the rubricators were off-site, and not in Mainz.

After decoration, the pages were bound. Typically, the Gutenberg Bibles were bound in two volumes, Volume I containing the various Jerome Prefaces and the Old Testament from Genesis through Psalms, Volume II containing the rest of the Old Testament (Proverbs through Maccabees II) along with the New Testament.[ref]<a href=””>The Old Testament Copy</a>[/ref]. A complete Volume 1 consisted of 324 leaves, with 319 leaves for Volume II.[ref]University of Cambridge Library Treasures of the Library: Gutenberg Bible.[/ref]. These are not small books, by the way; they are unwieldy and large, meant to read at lecterns rather than hand held. The Mazarine Gutenberg Volume I measures 409 x 299 x 88 mm.

For a basic background regarding Johann Gutenberg and why the Gutenberg Bible is important, see the British Library’s page The Basics. For an introduction to the mechanics involved in Gutenberg’s production (this was an inventive and complicated workflow that involved selecting paper, creating the reusable metal type, compositing the type, creating the ink, and creating a press) see the British Library on Gutenberg Bible: Making the Bible.

Wikipedia contains a list of known extant Gutenberg Bible volumes. The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin, Texas has an interactive map showing the locations of all known Gutenberg Bibles.

The HUMI Project

A number of Gutenberg Bibles were digitized by Keio University in Tokyo, Japan as part of its HUMI Project. Keio University’s Humanities Media Interface Project (HUMI), began in 1996 when the university acquired a Gutenberg Bible (Hubay 45, purchased from the collection created by Estelle Doheny). Under the direction of HUMI’s director, Professor Toshiyuki Takamiya, and its technical director, Professor Masaaki Kashimura, HUMI engaged in collaborative digitizing projects with libraries all over the world using the latest advances in digital imaging technology. The HUMI Project digitized eleven sets of the Gutenberg Bible in nine institutions, for a total of nineteen volumes. Eight of the copies digitized by HUMI can now be viewed on the Web.[ref]The HUMI Project[/ref]. The institutions whose Gutenberg Bibles were digitized by The HUMI Project include Keio University, Tokyo, The British Library, London, The National Library of Scotland.

The Gutenberg Bible Online

The Library of Congress, Washington D.C., the United States Hubay 35[ref]Ilona Hubay was a scholar and codicologist who surveyed existing copies of the Gutenberg Bible in an attempt to establish where the were, how many there were, and who owned them, resulting in  Die bekannten Exemplare der zweiundvierzigzeiligen Bibel und ihre Besitzer (1985). Hubay numbers refer to this study and the latter emendations and additions in the British Library’s Incunabula Short Title Catalogue.[/ref]

This copy of the Gutenberg Bible consists of three volumes printed on vellum, one of only a few complete vellum copies known to exist. Initial capitals and headings were colored by hand. The current white pigskin binding is from the 16th century. Other vellum copies of the Gutenberg Bible are at the Bibliothèque Nationale in France and the British Library. The LOC Gutenberg Bible originally belonged to Benedictine  monasteries in Austria and was purchased in 1930 by an act of Congress. The Library of Congress hosts selected images of the LOC Gutenberg Bible.

Keio University Gutenberg, Tokyo, Japan Hubay 45

This is a single volume I printed on paper and containing the Old Testament. It was previously owned by Californian book collector Estelle Doheny (1875-1958), who left it to the Seminary . Keio University purchased it in 1996. It contains a single replacement folia, fol. 134. Keio University and its HUMI Project have created a digital facsimile of the Gutenberg Bible b45 online.

For a history of Gutenberg B45 see Margaret Leslie Davis. The Lost Gutenberg: The Astounding Story of One Book’s Five-Hundred-Year Odyssey. TarcherPerigee (Penguin), 2019.

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The Morgan Library, New York, New York Hubay 37, Hubay 38 and Hubay 44

The Morgan Library is the only institution with three copies of the Gutenberg Bible. The Morgan has one copy on vellum (PML 13 & 818; Hubay 37)  and two copies on paper, one in two volumes (PML 19206–7; Hubay 38) and another in one volume (PML 12; Hubay 44), containing only the Old Testament.

The Morgan Library has a digital facsimile of  PML 12 | Hubay 44, Vol. I of the Gutenberg Old Testament online. This appears to be a complete facsimile of the book, which The Morgan notes is “the entire Old Testament is bound in one extra-large volume, and there is no evidence that it was ever accompanied by the New Testament.”[ref]The Old Testament[/ref] Interestingly some of the illumination and decorations were removed at some point and replaced with facsimiles; see The Morgan Library’s page regarding Ornamentation and this book. See also this Morgan Library page about the Provenance of Hubay 44.

The British Library, London, England Hubay 19 and Hubay 21

The British Library has two complete Gutenberg Bibles.  Hubay 19 is a complete copy on vellum in two volumes. Known as the Greville Gutenberg Bible after the owner Thomas Greville who left it to the British Library in 1846. See this page about the decoration of the British Library’s Greville Gutenberg Bible on vellum. There is a digital facsimile of the British Library’s Greville Gutenberg Bible on vellum.

Hubby 21 is a complete copy on paper sometimes referred to as the King’s Gutenberg because it was acquired by George III (1738-1820) at an unknown date and entered The British Library in 1828 with the transfer of the King’s library in 1828. See this page about the decoration, which is on the slender side (no illuminated initials, no red headlines). There is a digital facsimile of the British Library’s Gutenberg Bible on paper.

The British Library also has an important fragment of a Gutenberg Bible. This is a single leaf on vellum referred to as ”Bagford Fragment.” This fragment is identified with the shelfmark: IC.56a. It is Leaf 268 of vol. II, and contains the end of Paul’s letter to the Galatians and the beginning of the letter to the Ephesians. It was found reinforcing the binding (a binding wrapper) of another, later book. The Bagfor fragment is important because it can be shown to have been decorated in England via close comparison with the elaborately decorated Lambeth Palace Library Gutenberg Bible Volumne II, the New Testatment, on vellum (Hubay 20).

Cambridge University Library, Cambridge Hubay 22

This is a complete Gutenberg Bible on paper. There is a digital facsimile online. Volume I and Volume II.

Bodleian Library, Oxford Hubay 24

The National Library Of Scotland Hubay 26

This is a complete Gutenberg Bible on paper in two volumes. It was initially acquired by the Advocates’ Library in 1805 or 1806 from David Steuart, Lord Provost of Edinburgh for 150 guineas.[ref]See the National Library of Scotland’s catalog.[/ref] It is notable for the Southern German style of the decoration.[ref]The British Library  Copies elsewhere in the UK.[/ref] There is a complete digital facsimile of the National Library of Scotland’s Gutenberg Bible.

Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington Indiana Hubay 46

An incomplete Volume II New Testament on paper, missing 11 leaves. There are internal capitals in red. This is part of the same Gutenberg Bible as the incomplete Vol 1 Old Testament now in the Library of the University of Mons-Hainaut, Mons and referred to as Hubay 1. There is an online digital facsimile.

Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin Hubay 39

This is a complete Gutenberg Bible in two volumes on paper. There is a digital facsimile online.

Österreichische Nationalbibliothek | Austrian National Library, Vienna Hubay 27

This is a complete Gutenberg Bible on paper in two volumes, and was acquired by the library from Friedrich Karl Joseph von Erthal in 1793. It is one of the two extant copies that contains a  “tabula rubricarum” (index of rubrics) on four leaves at the back (Bavarian State Library, Munich Hubay 5 is the other). There is a complete digital facsimile.

Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris Hubay 15

Hubay 15 is a complete copy on vellum, now in four volumes (it was rebound after 1788 when the library acquired it from Cardinal Étienne Charles de Loménie de Brienne. This is an extensively decorated copy. All four volumes are available in a digital facsimile. Vol I, Vol II, Vol III, Vol IV.

Hubay 17 which consists of a partial volume I and volume II on paper is also in the Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris but the library has not made digital images available.

Bibliothèque Mazarine, Paris Hubay 16

A complete copy of the Gutenberg Bible on paper in two volumes. This was the first Gutenberg Bible to be “discovered” and for a time Gutenberg Bibles were identifies as Mazarine Bibles after this library. There is a complete digital facsimile online of the Mazarine Gutenberg Bible vol I and vol II (click the image to see the entire volume).

Bibliothèque Municipale, Saint-Omer Hubay 18

Volume I of the Gutenberg Bible, on paper, and missing a leaf (f.241). There are red and blue initials and a decorated capital marks the opening of Psalms (f.293). The complete volume is available online as a digital facsimile (click the image to see all the leaves; the text is in French).

The Gutenberg Museum, Mainz, Germany Hubay 8

The Gutenberg Museum has a number of resources and exhibits about the history of printing, emphasizing the role of Gutenberg’s workshop and Mainz in the early history of print. Hubay 8 is an incomplete Gutenberg Bible in two volumes on paper.  There is purportedly an online facsimile, but it doesn’t seem to be currently functioning (scroll down to “Klick here” at the bottom).

Göttingen State and University Library, Göttingen, Germany Hubay 2

A complete Gutenberg Bible in two volumes on vellum. It has red and blue capitals and several illuminated initials, some foliate and some with gold ornamentation. This is a complete mini-site, with a full digital facsimile. It includes a great deal of background about Johanne Gutenberg and his business, life and techniques, and the history of printing, with many primary sources. The site in some sections relies on Flash.  The Göttingen Guttenberg Bible on Vellum is online in a complete digital facsimile that requires Adobe Flash.

Bavarian State Library, Munich Hubay 5

This is the other of the two extant copies (See Österreichische Nationalbibliothek | Austrian National Library, Vienna Hubay 27 for the other) that contains a  “tabula rubricarum” (index of rubrics) on four leaves at the back. There is a complete digital facsimile of the Bavarian State Library Gutenberg Bible vol I and vol II.

Frankfurt University Library, Frankfurt am Main Hubay 6

This is a complete Gutenberg Bible on paper in two volumes. In addition to images there are downloadable .pdfs containing the individual images. Rubrics at the top of chapters are in red and blue, and capitals alternate in red and blue. There is a complete online facsimile of both volume I and volume II. You can page through or go directly to specific books of the Old and New Testament.

Württembergische Landesbibliothek, Stuttgart Hubay 10

This is an incomplete Gutenberg Bible on paper; both the Old and New Testaments are present but in incomplete condition. There is a digital facsimile. For specific large images use the DFT viewer link on the top.

Biblioteca Universitaria y Provincial, Seville Hubay 32

This is a paper copy of the Gutenberg Bible New Testament. There is an online facsimile (in Spanish). You can also see thumbnails of the folios.

The Vatican Library, Vatican City, Italy Hubay 33 and Hubay 34

The Vatican Library owns two Gutenberg Bibles. Hubay 33 is an incomplete copy of Volumes I and II on Vellum. There are online images of Volume I and Volume II. Hubay 34 is an incomplete Volume I on paper; there are presently no images online.