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[BIBLIA LATINA (the “Gutenberg Bible,” or “42-Line Bible”)].
Fragment of 31 leaves.
[Mainz: Johannes Gutenberg, Johannes Fust, and Peter Schoeffer, c. 1454-55].

The invention of printing with moveable type at Mainz, Germany, c. 1450, did not merely introduce a means of manufacturing multiple books quickly. It introduced to Western culture the essential intellectual concept of the “edition,” so that readers in all parts of Europe could consult identical copies of a fixed text that was not compromised by the variability of each reader’s manuscript version. Thus, the printing press did not merely spread learning with unprecedented speed; it provided learning with a reliable foundation for growth.

The most detailed fifteenth-century account of the European invention of printing with moveable type appeared in the “Cologne Chronicle” of 1499. This text includes the early Cologne printer Ulrich Zel’s testimony that Johannes Gutenberg had invented printing in Mainz by 1450, and that “the first book to be printed was the Bible in Latin, with type as large as the type now used in the printing of Missals.” A variety of documentary and material evidence proves that the first substantial printed book in Europe was the undated, unsigned Latin Bible printed with 42 lines of “Missal” type per column, now famous as the “Gutenberg Bible.”

Bridwell Library’s 31 leaves of the Gutenberg Bible, including the books of Jeremiah, Lamentations, and Baruch, came from an incomplete second volume discovered in 1828 at a farmhouse near Trier, Germany. The volume eventually became the property of a Jewish chemist who sold it through Sotheby’s in 1937 to finance his escape from Nazi Germany to London. The buyer was Arthur A. Houghton, Jr., who in 1953 turned it over to Charles Scribner’s Sons in New York. This firm removed 116 leaves of the New Testament for a collector in Chicago (they are now at Indiana University) and sold the 132 remaining leaves individually and in small groups. The largest of these groups, this 31-leaf fragment, went to John M. Crawford, Jr., of New York City, whose agents sold it to Bridwell Library on 11 June 1970.