Little Bits of History

Gutenberg Bible

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 23, 2011

Page from a Gutenberg Bible

February 23, 1455: The Gutenberg Bible is published, the first western book printed with movable type. The book is known as the 42-line Bible or B42 because there were 42 lines per page. The books were printed on paper or vellum, a sort of parchment. There are rarer editions with only 36 lines per page as well and one Bagford Fragment which is illustrated.

Movable type was invented in China by Bi Sheng around 1040 using balked clay or ceramic tiles. Around 1230 in Korea, metal was used. Both systems of movable types were not widely used mainly because of the enormous amount of Chinese characters. Gutenberg, in Mainz, Germany, independently devised a movable type using a metal alloy of lead, tin, and antimony – a combination still used today. This was a vast improvement over woodblock printing. It was quicker, the metal was more durable, and print became uniform with the introduction of fonts.

Gutenberg held a monopoly on his technique, but after a fight with investors, the secret leaked out. Since the system was such an improvement, other movable type printing presses spread throughout Europe and by 1500 there were 220 presses. Not everyone was pleased with this technology. The Ottoman Empire banned the invention from 1483-1727 with the death penalty handed down to lawbreakers. By the end of the 18th century printing was spreading rapidly and by the mid-19th century, it was virtually available worldwide.

As of 2003 there remained 11 complete Gutenberg Bibles printed on vellum, 1 New Testament only on vellum, and 48 “substantially” complete Bibles printed on paper. Germany has 12 of the rare books. Paris, Moscow, Mainz, and Vatican City each have two volumes. London has three copies and New York City has four. There are three “perfect vellum” Bibles in the world with Paris, London, and Washington, DC each owning a copy.

“It is a press, certainly, but a press from which shall flow in inexhaustible streams…Through it, God will spread His Word. A spring of truth shall flow from it: like a new star it shall scatter the darkness of ignorance, and cause a light heretofore unknown to shine amongst men.” – Johann Gutenberg

“Gutenberg made everybody a reader. Xerox makes everybody a publisher.” – Marshall McLuhan

“We can put television in its proper light by supposing that Gutenberg’s great invention had been directed at printing only comic books.” – Robert M. Hutchins

“It might be argued that genuine spontaneity is not really possible or desirable so long as printed scores of great works exist. All modern musicians are, for better or worse, prisoners of Gutenberg.” – Donal Henahan

Also on this day:
The Rotary Club – In 1905, the Rotary Club was formed.
Cato Street Conspiracy – In 1820, the conspiracy fell apart.


5 Responses

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  1. World Spinner said, on March 1, 2011 at 5:12 am

    Gutenberg Bible « Little Bits of History…

    Here at World Spinner we are debating the same thing……

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