The University of Kansas Libraries
Gutenberg Bible, Mainz, Germany, 1455. 1 leaf: vol. 2, fol. 113. Ezekial, 18.1-20.7.
The Gutenberg Bible, also known as the 42-line Bible, was the first large book to be printed in the West. Johannes Gutenberg had printed a few small pamphlets, calendars, and forms before the Bible was finished, but it remains his greatest accomplishment. We think of Gutenberg as having invented the printing press, but in fact he developed a series of new techniques and devices that came together in the process we know as printing. The first and arguably the most significant invention was the typecasting mold that allowed for the creation of moveable type. Thus pages of type could be assembled from many individual pieces of metal, printed, and then distributed back into cases from which new pages could be assembled. The other new developments were the creation of a viscous kind of ink that would not run and the configuration of a common screw press to push the paper down onto the inked type and create a legible page. Of course making all this work was not easy, but by 1455 Gutenberg and his foreman Peter Schoeffer had printed about 180 copies, 135 on paper and 45 on vellum. Of these only about 48 survive, some only in fragments.
The KU leaf came from a fragmentary copy that was broken up and offered for sale in 1953. It was originally from a copy that resided in the abbey of St. Maximin in Trier, Germany. During the Napoleonic Wars, the Bible was lost but it later came to light when a librarian named Wyttenbach discovered it in a peasant's farmhouse in Olewig, where some of its leaves were recovered from children's school books serving as covers). It was then acquired by the state library in Trier but subsequently sold to a Jewish collector who fled Nazi Germany to England. It was then bought at Christie's in London in 1937 by the noted American collector, Arthur Houghton. Later, a portion of it was acquired by Charles Scribner's Sons in New York, who sold it in separate fragments, including the single leaf that KU acquired in 1953.
University of Kansas, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, Department of Special Collections, Summerfield G1