Tour the world and see the Gutenberg Bible

Highest selling copy went for $4.9 million in 1987

This high quality scan of a page of the Gutenberg Bible shows the beautiful displays and rubrics used to decorate its pages. This page is a copy of the Old Testament, the Epistle of St Jerome.

One of the most expensive books ever sold at auction was the Gutenberg Bible, which sold in 1987 for $4.9 million.

While many Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and look at getting the Bible as a gift, this one may be out of the stocking stuffer budget.

The Gutenberg Bible’s history is significant in that it was one of the first books mass produced using movable type. Published by Johannes Gutenberg in the 1450s it is believed there were between 158 or 180 copies printed with 42 substantially complete copies left.

The printing marks a revolution in book publishing, which is perhaps one of the reasons there is such demand for the Gutenberg Bible. While the majority of the book was printed on the press, the rubric headings were hand drawn after the pages were printed.

Getting your hands on a copy will be a challenge as there are said to be 21 complete copies, all of which have homes. There are also incomplete versions of the book, which can be partly credited to owners selling off single pages over the years.

According to a Wikipedia post, there are 49 Gutenberg Bibles known to exist.

Demand for the book and its pages is also high; the top sale of $4.9 million was purchased by Keio University Library in Tokyo, Japan and at Christie’s Auction House, a single page sold for $62,500 a few weeks ago Dec. 5, 2017.

Anyone wishing to see the Gutenberg Bible in person in all its glory could certainly make a world tour of it with complete and incomplete copies being found in many museums and libraries around the globe. A tour of Europe will get travellers into 10 European countries including France (four copies), Austria (one), Germany (13) and the United Kingdom (eight).

Copies are located in different parts of each country so it would take some time to go to each location.

As well, travellers could head to the Vatican City (two copies) or Russia where the Moscow State University and Russian State Library each have a copy.

For those wishing to make a shorter trip of it, consider the United States, which has 11 copies of the Gutenberg Bible with locations being New York, California, Texas and the Library of Congress in Washington DC, to name a few.

However, there is only one location in the entire world that has three copies of the book, The Morgan Library and Museum in New York City. According to the museum’s records it has in its possession one copy on vellum and two on paper. For the latter two, one is in two volumes and the other a single volume that contains the Old Testament.

“Most copies are bound in two volumes, the first composed of the Old Testament from Genesis through Psalms, the second comprising the rest of the Old Testament (Proverbs through Maccabees II) along with the New Testament,” states the Morgan Library website.

As for the rubrics and decorations in the book, the Morgan states that each of the three copies have different levels of ornamentation with various illuminators involved in the work. The purpose of the illuminations is to help someone with place markers when reading to a crowd.

“A complete Gutenberg Bible contains 3,945 rubrics as well as 72 six-line initials, 3 five-line initials, 61 four-line initials, 11 three-line initials, 1,292 two-line initials, and 2,509 one-line initials,” states the Morgan.

For the travellers looking to see the world, the Gutenberg Bible tour may be one to remember. It would be recommended to confirm first that a tour is indeed possible as some locations may not have the book on display.

Of course for those who can’t afford a trip around the world can take in Gutenberg Bible online where many of the museums and libraries showcase the book, along with photos and provenance, on their website.

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