The Gutenberg Bible
When Johann Gutenberg (ca 1400-1468) introduced printing with moveable metal type to Western Europe, he revolutionized not only the book, but the very nature of communication. Gutenberg launched this revolution in 1455 in Mainz, Germany, with the printing of the Biblia Sacra, St. Jerome's fourth-century Latin Vulgate Bible. Text, once scared and complicated to produce, was now easily created in multiples that were readily distributed. Our of this explosion of words emerged the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Scientific Revolution.
Gutenberg's printed words mimicked the formal book hand used by scribes. His Bible resembled a large, gothic Bible of the period. Of the approximately 180 copies of the Gutenberg Bible printed, less than fifty survive today and only twenty-one are complete. To produce 180 copies the 1,282-page Bible required 230,760 passes through the press -- nearly two years of work. The average scribe, on the other hand, could complete only one entire Bible in three years.
Most copies were printed on paper, but the Library of Congress copy is printed on vellum, a fine parchment made from animal skins. The Library's copy is one of only several perfect vellum copies to survive. For nearly five centuries the Bible was in the possession of the Benedictine Order in their monasteries of St. Blasius and St. Paul in Austria. Along with other fifteenth-century books, it was purchased from Dr. Otta Vollbehr by act of Congress in 1930.