A rare artifact from the first major book printed with moveable type in the West.
Leaf from the Gutenberg Bible
"[The Gutenberg Bible] has never been surpassed. Of all the arts, printing at its birth reached perfection more nearly than any other." – A. Edward Newton
Gutenberg's printing press was one of the most radical turning points in recorded history. It created a leap in communication and accessibility that transformed Europe, playing a critical role in the Reformation, the Scientific Revolution, and countless other movements that have shaped the modern world.
The famed beauty of the Gutenberg Bible is not exaggerated. In order to compete within the mature market of illuminated manuscripts, Gutenberg painstakingly recreated the look of the era's popular writing style and left room for hand embellishments, like the red initials here.
This leaf comes from the incomplete Trier copy, widely dispersed in the 20th century. Volume II, from which it was sourced, was first offered for sale in 1937 at Sotheby's and purchased by Arthur A. Houghton, Jr., who sold it to Charles Scribner's Sons in 1953. Reasoning that it already lacked about 20% of the original leaves, Scribner sold the remaining leaves individually to institutions and private collectors over the next few years. (The also incomplete Volume I is housed at Indiana University's Lilly Library.) Only 21 complete copies of the Gutenberg Bible survive, and one hasn't been sold since 1978; for decades, single leaves like this have been the only obtainable version. This leaf contains Isaiah 63:1-65:22, verses on God's mercy and forgiveness.
Fine, elegant, and electric.
Read more: Norman, The 500th Anniversary Pictorial Census of the Gutenberg Bible, 112-3; Printing and the Mind of Man, 1; Goff, Incunabula in American Libraries, B-526B; Ing, Johann Gutenberg and His Bible.
[Mainz]: [Johannes Gutenberg], [circa 1455]. Single folio leaf. 14.25'' x 10.5''. 42 lines of Gothic type in two columns, two red manuscript initials. Bull's head watermark in center of leaf. "Isaiah" and page number written in ink on top margin of recto. Housed in a custom clamshell box with window-framed folder. Only light soiling to lower margin: exceptionally bright and clear, with no repairs.
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