It is part of the wonder surrounding my interest in the Bible that, on the 500th anniversary of the completion of the Gutenberg Bible, I should have rediscovered (pinpointed it for scholars is perhaps more exact) a copy which virtually nobody knew was missing.
The last of five twentieth-century censuses of this famed Bible listed 46 copies known to have survived—32 in Europe and 14 in the United States. Two copies, when exhibited outside their regular habitat in recent years, were insured for $500,000 each. So high is the value placed on the first Bible, and believed by many to be the first book, printed from movable type in the Western world.
A year ago, in writing on the Gutenberg Bible for a national magazine, I closed the piece with an unconscious prophecy: “Someday, somewhere in the world, there may be another discovery like the one in the peasant’s home in Olewig; or there may be another library like Sir George Shuckburgh’s. And in our land of free enterprise no one can stop us from dreaming that one of us may locate the next copy of the most expensive book in the world.” (The reference to Olewig and Shuckburgh is to the last two copies of the Gutenberg Bible rediscovered.)
Despite these words, when I started planning late in 1955 a pilgrimage to all the libraries in the world containing original Gutenberg Bibles, I never dreamed that my journey would be instrumental in pinpointing for scholars Copy Number Forty-seven of this almost priceless Bible.
Time For A Census
My plan was to examine and photograph each copy, gather bibliographical and human interest material about each, and publish a 500th Anniversary Illustrated Census of the Gutenberg Bible. Nothing like it had ever been done before ...1
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