Meticulous Re-edition of Gutenberg Bible

By Gerald Studer
(Bible Collectors’ World – April/June 1989)

What the distributor is calling “the re-edition of the Gutenberg Bible” was accomplished approximately three years ago in Paris using the “Mazarin” Bible as the copying model. It then took three years to produce the finished product with scrupulous fidelity to detail.

Two handsome volumes of English translation and commentary accompany the two-volume set of the Latin Gutenberg Bible reproduction. The term “re-edition” is used in reference to this work because the result is a far more meticulous copy than either of the two previous facsimiles. Here even the watermarks are to be found where they originally appear on the pages. Some 6-700 sets of this work were sold in the original French edition with 250 sets made available in English. The French government provided 75% of the funds needed to produce this reproduction.

The entire Committee of Sponsorship consisted of high-level French scholars. As mentioned above, this is only the third time that a publishing event of such magnitude has been undertaken: the first by the German firm of Insel Verlag of Leipzig and based upon the Gutenberg Bibles from the Berlin Staatsbibliothek and the Fulda Landesbibliothek; the second known as the Cooper Square Gutenberg Bible derived from the earlier 1913-14 edition just mentioned and published by Cooper Square Publishers of New York, N.Y. in 1961, and now this third available from Midwest Library Service, 11443 St. Charles Rock Road, Bridgeton, Missouri 63044-2789. The regular price of the numbered four-volume set is $5400.

Midwest Library Service has been a major distributor of books to college and university libraries for more than 25 years. President Lesser invites any who have questions about this publishing event to call Midwest Library Service (1-800-325-8833 in U.S., or 1-800-392-5024 if Missouri resident, or in Canada 1-800-527-1659).

The two volumes accompanying the two-volume reproduction of the “Mazarin” Gutenberg Bible in this set contain the transcription of the Gutenberg Bible in Roman (modern) type, the Revised Standard Version Bible in English to accompany the ancient Latin text, a section designed to inform the reader fully on the history of the man, Johann Gutenberg, his printing press invention, as well as of the Bible which he produced.

Gutenberg made three contributions which rendered “obsolete” the handwritten books of the preceding centuries, namely, movable type, the printing press, and special ink. The type that he used is called “textura” and is a form of the majestic Gothic type reserved uniquely for printing of Holy Scripture. Each bold initial letter is decorated differently depending upon whether it appears at the beginning of a verse, or chapter, or book of the Bible. The art historian and antique expert de Bure declared in 1763, “The Gutenberg is not only the first book printed in history, but also a masterpiece worthy of acclaim before all Bibles, and all other books ever printed.”

before all Bibles, and all other books ever printed.” (Emphasized words his) It is thought that Gutenberg printed 150 Bibles, 30 on parchment and 120 on paper. Today only 20 complete originals exist in the world. This re-edition is an original piece of art — original because craftsmen have made each by hand leaving their mark of skill on each volume. Each volume of the Bible contains over 1200 pages. The paper for this facsimile was specially manufactured of 100% rag and each of the four watermarks (the head of an ox, the bunch of grapes with a loop in the stem, the bunch of grapes with an enlarged stem, and the running ox) are all reproduced as in the original. Volume 1 consists of a gathering of 33 signatures and volume 2 has 32 signatures. The binding is of crushed-grain Bordeaux-colored Morocco leather cut in a single piece for each volume. The gilding is done in genuine 22 carat gold and old gold style on top, fore-edge, and bottom. The endpapers were made by hand in the old fashioned manner.

The Gutenberg Bible marks a singular watershed in the history of bookmaking — indeed, in the history of civilization. There are only 49 known copies of the Gutenberg Bible, less than half of which are complete copies. In October, 1989, a single volume containing Genesis through Psalms was sold by Christie’s auction in New York for a record $5.39 million, more than double the previous record $2.2 million paid for a two-volume Gutenberg in 1978. The purchaser was Eiichi Kobayashi, director of the book and journal division of the Maruzen Company, booksellers and importers. The one volume was from the collection of Carrie Estelle Doheny and bequeathed to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

The saga of the Gutenberg Bible continues and the availability of this fine facsimile contributes significantly to this notable event in Christian history.