Gutenberg Bible

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Gutenberg Bible from the New York Public Library
Beginning of the Book of Genesis in the Gutenberg Bible in the Berlin State Library

The Gutenberg Bible , also called "B42" or "B-42" due to the number of lines per page, is the first book in the western world to be printed with movable type . The Latin Bible was created between 1452 and 1454 in Johannes Gutenberg's printer's workshop in Mainz . With the help of the employee Peter Schöffer , the financier Johannes Fust and about 20 other employees, about 180 copies were created. In addition to the 150 or so Bibles printed on paper, there were about 30 editions on parchment . The design of the fonts and the printing adheres very closely to the appearance of contemporary manuscripts . Because of its historical significance and aesthetic quality, the 42-line Bible is considered the most important and valuable book in printing history .


A manuscript from the Vulgate served as a template for the sentence , the translation of the biblical text into Latin that was made by Jerome and was the standard text of the Latin Bible at the time of Gutenberg.

Structure and writing

Binding of the Gutenberg Bible in the New York Public Library

The print consists of two volumes in folio format . The first volume has 648 pages, the second 634 pages. The first volume contains the first part of the Old Testament, the second volume mainly the prophets of the Old Testament and the New Testament. An exception is the copy from the Library of Congress in Washington , which is bound in three volumes.

The type area has a size of about 19.5 × 29 cm and consists of two columns ( columns ). Each column contains 42 lines, which result in a uniform justification in the overall picture . In order to achieve an even margin, Gutenberg used a variety of different letter forms, ligatures and abbreviations. In total, the text is made up of 290 type variations: 47 uppercase letters, 63 lowercase letters, 92 abbreviations, 83 ligatures and 5 punctuation marks .

Gutenberg chose Textura , a variation of the Gothic minuscule, as the font . It was often used in liturgical books and was characterized by a large font size . As a result, the Bible text was readable even in low light and from a distance and was suitable for use in the church.

Categorization and illustration

Genesis 1 in the sparsely illustrated copy of the Bodleian Library

Awards in the text were made after printing. You were the rubricator's area of ​​responsibility . In addition to the copy of the Bible , he received a tabula rubricarum in which all the desired awards were listed. Colored drawings and initials were also inserted individually by hand after printing. Illustrators took on this task. Some of these worked on behalf of the printer, some on behalf of the buyer. There are no pictures on individual pages in the B42. The free areas around the text field are decorated, mostly with tendrils of flowers and leaves. This means that every edition of the Bible is unique.

Special features in typesetting and printing

On pages 1 to 9 and 257 to 263 the columns consist of only 40 lines, on page 10 there are 41 lines. The remaining pages, unless they are at the end of a chapter, have been set with 42 lines throughout. The type area remained unchanged, however, only the line spacing ( leading ) was reduced. This certainly led to a saving in paper or parchment and thus to a reduction in costs.

Another irregularity can be found on pages 1, 7, 9, 257 and 258. Gutenberg tried to insert the red awards into the printing process as well. For this purpose, the black letters were first printed and the colored ones inserted in a second step. However, the result did not seem to do justice to the desired look or the workload was considered too high. The red print has been discontinued. The mentioned deviations could be an indication that Gutenberg, while the Bible was being made, was fine-tuning his developments and trying to achieve improvements.


There are no reliable historical sources about the origin and manufacture of the B42. In order to be able to reconstruct the Bible print, the research carried out several examinations on the preserved copies. In addition to analyzing printing inks and paper, she compared the copies with one another very carefully. This leads to the speculation that, later at the beginning of four six pads to the set production worked and was printed in parallel on two presses. A period of two years is calculated for the entire process from type production to the printed pages. In addition, there was the time required for categorization , illumination , binding and cover design, which was carried out by external workshops. A copy of a Bible copy in the scriptorium took a similar timeframe . With the help of his development of printing with movable metal letters, Gutenberg produced around 180 copies during this time.

Publication date and number of copies

West German postage stamp (1954) for the 500th anniversary of the Gutenberg Bible

There are two sources that allow conclusions to be drawn about the appearance and number of copies of the B42. On the one hand, a handwritten note in the paper copy of the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, according to which the binding and illumination were completed in August 1456. At this point the print had to be finished.

The second document is a letter from Enea Silvio Piccolomini (later Pope Pius II), dated March 12, 1455. He reported to the recipient, Cardinal Juan Carvajal, of a visit to Frankfurt am Main. During the visit he met an “amazing man” who presented Bible pages “in the most clean and correct script, nowhere duplicated”. Piccolomini further reported that the Bibles were sold before they were finished and that he had heard of 158 and 180 books that were finished. If he speaks of Johannes Gutenberg and the B42, as the research suggests, then the printing of the Bible was completed before the beginning of 1455. Piccolomini's different figures are explained by a change in the number of copies in the printing phase. This argument is supported by the fact that in some surviving copies the 40-line pages have been replaced by newly set 42-line pages.

Copies today

Showcase with the Gutenberg Bible from the Library of Congress (1944)

In 1979, the Munich librarian Ilona Hubay presented a list of all existing copies of the 42-line Gutenberg Bible : the known copies of the forty-two -line Bible and their owners , which she published for the first time in the commentary on the facsimile edition of the Berlin copy. She identified 47 pieces and their owners. Two more copies have been identified since the Hubay directory was published, so that today there are 49 known copies of the Gutenberg Bible worldwide. Some of these are only preserved in one volume or in fragments . In 1987, the Japanese book retailer Maruzen Co. Ltd. acquired (Tokyo) a volume from the possession of the American collector Estelle Dohany for 4.9 million US- $ (The Frankfurter Rundschau called the price of 5.39 million US- $ at the time.): The purchase price is one of the highest, the has ever been paid for a printing unit.

The copy in the Lower Saxony State and University Library in Göttingen was included in 2001 by UNESCO in the list of the world document heritage "Memory of the World" .





Great Britain








United States

Vellum copy from the Library of Congress

Vatican state


  • Wolfgang Dobras: Gutenberg. Aventure and Art. From secret company to the first media revolution . Published by the city of Mainz on the occasion of the 600th birthday of Johannes Gutenberg. Schmidt, Mainz 2000, ISBN 3-87439-507-3 . (Exhibition catalog, Mainz, 2000)
  • Stephan Füssel : Gutenberg and its effect . Insel Verlag, Frankfurt am Main u. a. 1999, ISBN 3-458-16980-6 .
  • Leonhard Hoffmann: Gutenberg, Fust and the first Bible print. Part 1 to 4 In: Zentralblatt für Bibliothekswesen Part 1: 1983 Issue 11, ISSN  0044-4081 , pp. 473-481; Part 2: 1984 Issue 12, pp. 529-536; Part 3: 1986 Issue 12, pp. 533-547; Part 4: 1987 Issue 1, pp. 53-63.
  • Eberhard König: On the situation of Gutenberg research . Updated special edition. Verlag Bibliotheca Rara, Münster 1995, ISBN 3-928518-25-9 .
  • Aloys Ruppel : Johannes Gutenberg. His life and work . Verlag Gebr. Mann, Berlin 1939.
  • Andreas Venzke : Johannes Gutenberg - The inventor of the printing press and his time . 3. Edition. Piper-Verlag, Munich 2000, ISBN 3-492-22921-2 . (It contains a critical description of the so-called Gutenberg Bible, its production and Gutenberg's role)

Web links

Commons : Gutenberg Bible  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Digitized copies

A Japanese digitization team in particular scanned copies of the Gutenberg Bible. Most of these digital copies can be viewed online free of charge.

No digital copies of single sheets are recorded. All copies listed here are fully digitized and can be viewed free of charge. The (now incomplete) list is arranged alphabetically by library location. A complete list , however, is available in the database of the complete catalog of the balance sheets.

Individual evidence

  1. The figures up to the Gutenberg Bible paragraph today come from: Eva-Maria Hanebutt-Benz: Gutenbergs inventions (unless otherwise stated) . In: City of Mainz (Hrsg.): Gutenberg - Aventur and art: From secret company to the first media revolution . Mainz 2000, pp. 158-189.
  2. Figures from: Aloys Ruppel: Johannes Gutenberg. His life and work . Verlag Gebr. Mann. Berlin, 1939, p. 148, see also
  3. The "work of books" - the 42-line Bible , GUTENBERG DIGITAL project, accessed April 23, 2018
  4. Compiled from Stephan Füssel: Johannes Gutenberg , Rowohlt Reinbek 2003, p. 143/144, and a list from the Gutenberg Museum Mainz
  5. ^ Bettina Wagner: Gutenberg goes East. Retrieved December 29, 2018 .
  6. Millions for the Gutenberg Bible . In: Frankfurter Rundschau . Frankfurt October 23, 1987.
  7. Gutenberg Bible. Retrieved August 31, 2017 .
  8. The GUTENBERG DIGITAL project , Göttingen State and University Library, accessed April 23, 2018
  9. Gutenberg Bible for Kassel permanently saved ( Memento of the original from November 7, 2017 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link has been inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. , Press release of the University of Kassel from November 23, 2010 @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  10. ^ Complete copy except for one page. During production, the page with the New Testament letter to Philemon was accidentally printed twice, but a section from the Letter to the Colossians was omitted. (See Stuttgarter Gutenbergbibel . In: Südkurier . From August 20, 2011) The Bible was at home in Offenburg around 1600. This is indicated by a lettering on the first page. Furthermore, between 1594 and 1613, various “choralists” have registered themselves in many of the initials of the book, including 1594 a “Stadler, Georg from Überlingen ”. (Cf. Sylvia Floetemeyer: Gutenberg Bible am See . In: Südkurier, August 18, 2011) When Offenburg was destroyed and looted by the French in 1689, the Bible probably got to England via France, then to New York, where it landed Baden-Württemberg had the antiquarian Bernd Breslauer bid for around four million German marks at an auction in 1978, the highest price ever paid for a book. (Cf. Sylvia Floetemeyer: Gutenberg Bible . In: Südkurier of August 24, 2011) Breslauer would have had an even larger budget available. (Cf. Sylvia Floetemeyer: “The Queen is back” . In: Südkurier of August 24, 2011) Today it is in the historical collection of the Württemberg State Library in Stuttgart. (Cf. Florian Weiland (flo): Gutenberg Bible in special exhibition . In: Südkurier from August 22, 2011)
  11. Michael Embach: Hundred Highlights - Precious manuscripts and prints from the Trier City Library . Regensburg 2013, ISBN 978-3-7954-2750-4 , pp. 168f.
  12. ^ The Lilly Library Digital Collections - Gutenberg Bible, New Testament . In: .