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This Day in History

World History

Friday, February 23, 1455. :   The Gutenberg Bible, the first western book printed from movable type, begins its print run.

     The original Gutenberg Bible is an incunabulum, that is, a book, single sheet, or image that was printed on a printing press, not handwritten, before the year 1501 in Europe. It was printed by its namesake, Johann Gutenberg, in Mainz, Germany, beginning on 23 February 1455. The production of the Gutenberg Bible marked the beginning of the mass production of books in the West. About 180 copies of the Bible were produced, 45 on vellum and 135 on paper. This was a phenomenal number in a society where, previously, books were written out and copied by hand, and a single copy of a massive tome such as the Bible could easily take three years.

Despite being produced by printing, each Gutenberg Bible is completely unique. Following the printing process, each one was rubricated and illuminated by hand. Rubrication usually refers to the addition of red headings to mark the end of one section of text and the start of another. Illumination meant the addition of decoration or illustration, such as decorated initials, borders and miniatures. As of 2003, the number of known extant Gutenberg Bibles includes eleven complete copies on vellum, one copy of the New Testament only on vellum, and 48 substantially complete integral copies on paper, with another divided copy on paper. The country with the most copies is Germany, which has twelve. London has three copies while Paris, New York, Leipzig, and Moscow each have two copies.

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