Gutenberg Bible, Vellum Leaf

[BIBLIA LATINA (the “Gutenberg Bible” or “42-Line Bible”)].
Fragment of 1 vellum leaf.
[Mainz: Johannes Gutenberg, Johannes Fust, and Peter Schoeffer, c. 1454–55]. (Prothro B-51)

After long experimentation with the first press, type casting, and printing inks, Gutenberg and his financier Johnann Fust had enough capital and skilled labor in place by 1454–55 to produce about 158 to 180 copies of the Latin Bible, including perhaps 40 copies on vellum (calfskin). Sold mainly to churches and monasteries, the Bibles were hand-decorated with headlines, initials, rubrics, and chapter numbers. Once bound, they were ready for liturgical use that in some cases lasted into the seventeenth century.

Peter Schoeffer’s role in the production of the Gutenberg Bible is not documented directly, but his training as a calligrapher, his close association with Fust c. 1455, and his expertise as an independent printer after Fust’s death in 1466 all suggest that he was a central participant in the early development of European printing.

This vellum leaf, folio 27 from a lost Gutenberg Bible (Genesis 48), was re-used as the liner inside the binding of a later book. This recycling is indicative of the sudden disregard for the Latin Bible and Catholic liturgical books in Reformation Germany. The leaf first emerged in a Munich bookseller’s shop in 1909. It was purchased by Charles N. Prothro for his wife Elizabeth Perkins Prothro for Christmas in 1964, and she presented it along with her Bible collection to Bridwell Library in 1996.

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Gutenberg, Fust, and Schoeffer
Gutenberg Bible, Vellum Leaf