Gutenberg Bible, The
GUTENBERG BIBLE, THE
A two-volume, double-column, 1,282-page printed edition of the Latin Vulgate so-called after its printer, Johann Gutenberg (b. 1394–1399, d. 1468), also known as Forty-two-line Bible, or Mazarin Bible. The name "Forty-two-line Bible" derives from the fact that the text was printed in 42-line columns, while "Mazarin Bible" refers to the first catalogued copy in the Paris library of Cardinal Jules Mazarin. Produced circa 1452–1455 in Mainz, the Gutenberg Bible is the oldest book printed using the movable-type technique.
Little is known about Gutenberg's early life and career. He achieved fame for his invention of the technique of movable-type, which facilitated the mass printing of books in a quick and efficient manner. Differing from the traditional block printing that necessitated the laborious engraving of type on plates, Gutenberg's technique comprised uniform type that could be mass produced in individual molds and assembled on plates, and books printed using a movable printing press derived from wine-press. He used his previous professional experience as a goldsmith to develop special techniques for cutting punches, stamping matrices, and casting individual pieces of type. He experimented with the use of steel alphabets in a press
with iron screws and other contrivances. In an effort to literally "reproduce" European books that were hand written by scribes, in a gothic script with many flourishes and ligatures, Gutenberg fashioned a font of over 300 characters. He then invented a variable-width mold and perfected the blend of lead, antimony and tin for casting the type.
While Gutenberg's discovery changed printing history, it did not immediately change his financial situation. The perfection and success of his invention came at enormous expense. Gutenberg formed a partnership with Johann Fust, a lawyer willing to loan him money. Unfortunately Fust later foreclosed on the loan and acquired all of Gutenberg's printing equipment in 1456. Gutenberg died three years later and was buried in the Franciscan church at Mainz.
Approximately 180 copies of the Gutenberg Bible were printed and significant parts of 48 copies still survive. The British Library houses two complete copies of the Gutenberg Bible and a small but important fragment of a third copy. One copy, printed on paper, was transferred in 1829 to the British Library with the library of King George III (1738–1820). The other copy was printed on vellum and was bequeathed by Thomas Grenville (1755–1846). Other perfect vellum copies are held by the Library of Congress and the Bibliotheque Nationale de France. In the United States, near complete copies are in the Huntington, Morgan, New York Public, Harvard University, and Yale University libraries.
Bibliography: j. pelikan, The Reformation of the Bible (New Haven 1976). j. m. dodu, The Gutenberg Bible: A Commentary, Historical Background, trans. j. m. dodu (Paris 1985).
[j. p. harrell]