The Gutenberg Bible

March 25th, 2004 - January 1st, 2011

Special Display: The first substantial printed book in the West is the royal-folio two-volume Bible on display, comprising nearly 1,300 pages and printed in Mainz on the central Rhine by Johann Gutenberg (ca. 1390s-1468) in the 1450s. Probably completed between March and November 1455, when Gutenberg's bankruptcy deprived him of his printing establishment, the Bible epitomizes Gutenberg's triumph, arguably the greatest achievement of the second millennium. Over possibly twenty or more years, at Mainz and perhaps at Strasbourg, he succeeded in developing printing from movable type in the West.

Perhaps some 180 copies of the Gutenberg Bible were originally produced, including about 45 on vellum. Of these, 48 integral copies survive, including eleven on vellum. The Lenox copy on display, printed on paper, is the first Gutenberg Bible to come to the United States, in 1847. Its arrival is the stuff of romantic national folklore. James Lenox's European agent issued instructions for New York that the officers at the Customs House were to remove their hats on seeing it: the privilege of viewing a Gutenberg Bible is vouchsafed to few.