The Gutenberg Bible Turns 554


Gutenberg BibleDid you know that it was today in 1456 that the printing of the Gutenberg Bible was completed? It was the first major book printed using the movable type printing press. Twenty-one complete copies survive, but other incomplete copies remain. Font nerds might be interested to know that Gutenberg used typefaces called Textualis and Schwabacher. Textualis is sometimes just called Gothic now. The columns were also justified, which you can see from the photograph. Of course, justified columns are still used today in books and newspapers. It was an instant bestseller, selling out of its initial print run of 180 copies. Interestingly, many buyers purchased the Bibles in order to donate them to religious institutions. I’m sure they thought that would be a check in the “nice” column for when they met St. Peter at the pearly gates. One of my own ancestors, David Kennedy, appears to have donated a Bible (not a Gutenberg, of course) to his church with a similar motivation. Germany possesses the most remaining copies at 12, but you can find 11 copies in the United States and 8 in the United Kingdom. The Library of Congress, Pierpont Morgan Library, Yale, Harvard, and the University of Texas at Austin have complete copies. I might have guessed Harvard and Yale would have the kind of endowments necessary to own a complete Gutenberg Bible, but I was surprised at UT Austin. They apparently acquired their Gutenberg in 1978 from the Carl H. Pforzheimer Foundation. The first volume has been illuminated by a former owner about which we know nothing. It also bears annotations that indicate it has been owned and loved. I adore the fact that some annotations are corrections. I correct errors in books sometimes, too.

The Hunger GamesIn completely unrelated news, I am putting The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen on hold to read The Hunger Games. Not one person I know has had anything less than absolute and unequivocal praise for Suzanne Collins’s trilogy. I need to see what the fuss is all about.

JulietAlso, Amazon sent me an email today suggesting I might be interested in Juliet by Anne Fortier, and I am. Check out the Publisher’s Weekly blurb:

Fortier bobs and weaves between Shakespearean tragedy and popular romance for a high-flying debut in which American Julie Jacobs travels to Siena in search of her Italian heritage—and possibly an inheritance—only to discover she is descended from 14th-century Giulietta Tomei, whose love for Romeo defied their feuding families and inspired Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Julie’s hunt leads her to the families’ descendants, still living in Siena, still feuding, and still struggling under the curse of the friar who wished a plague on both their houses. Julie’s unraveling of the past is assisted by a Felliniesque contessa and the contessa’s handsome nephew, and complicated by mobsters, police, and a mysterious motorcyclist. To understand what happened centuries ago, in the previous generation, and all around her, Julie relies on relics: a painting, a journal, a dagger, a ring. Readers enjoy the additional benefit of antique texts alternating with contemporary narratives, written in the language of modern romance and enlivened by brisk storytelling. Fortier navigates around false clues and twists, resulting in a dense, heavily plotted love story that reads like a Da Vinci Code for the smart modern woman.

So who took liberties? Shakespeare or Fortier? It was no friar who wished a plague on both house (it was Mercutio). How did Juliet have descendants? And why Siena instead of fair Verona? Still, I am intrigued. And it was probably Shakespeare.

Photo credit Kevin Eng.


6 thoughts on “The Gutenberg Bible Turns 554

  1. A few years ago I went to the Bodleian Library in Oxford (UK) to look at a copy of their Gutenberg. I was a curator at the time and wanted to compare a detail of the binding with one of the rare books in the collection I and a colleague curated. The bit we needed to see was on the inside (fortunately!) So they got it out for us. It only took a couple of minutes to check what we needed to check but we spent some time after that just looking through the book. Beautiful illumination and the book was in wonderful condition – hard to realise it was that old.

    1. How wonderful that you got to see one! I was interested to see Eton had a copy. I would have expected the Bodleian Library to have one, but no matter how ancient and prestigious the school is, I was still somewhat surprised about Eton. Probably American ignorance.

    1. Sadly, you are right (in many cases). I think, for example, the Harry Potter books are especially unattractive in the UK editions, but the US editions have lovely artwork by Mary Grandpré. I am partial to the UK cover of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which beats the American cover by a mile.

  2. I have equivocal praise for Suzanne Collins. The second book is not as good. Actually the more I have thought about the second book, the less I have liked it. But the first one is quite good, and by all accounts the third one is mind-blowingly good, so I hope you like the trilogy too! 🙂

  3. It often seems to be the case that the second in a series isn't as good, doesn't it? Notable exception being Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.

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