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The Gutenberg Bible

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Johan Gutenberg

The Gutenberg Bible is thought to have been the first major book produced by a printing press, ever. The name comes from the printer, Johan Gutenberg, who is credited with inventing a printing press that used movable type.

The Gutenberg Bible was printed in 1455 in Mainz, Germany. It was a two-volume version of the Vulgate Bible, a 4th Century translation by Jerome. The first volume ended with the Book of Psalms. Each page had 42 lines. The paper was handmade (imported from Italy), and each page contained a watermark. At first, 180 copies were made, most of them on paper, although some were printed on vellum, a kind of parchment. Significantly, the future Pope Pius II mentioned in a letter that he had seen pages from a copy of this Bible in Frankfurt.

The Bible is set in a justified measure, with lines aligning on both left and right sides. Today's word processors can do this automatically; Gutenberg achieved the effect by varying spaces around punctuation and between words.

The rather large margins allowed subsequent hand-drawn illustrations, of which there were some in some copies and many in others. (Bibles with more illustrations would have been more expensive to purchase.) Some copies contained no illustrations.

The printed Bible proved quite popular, with existing stock sold rather quickly. Buyers lived as far away as Hungary and Sweden. Most buyers are thought to have been religious institutions, although some copies are known to have been in private hands initially.

To this day, dozens of copies of the Gutenberg Bible remain, although only 21 are thought to be complete. Most are in libraries and other research institutions, in Germany, France, Italy, Russia, the U.S., the U.K., and Japan.


 
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