In 1450, in the small German town of Mainz, Johann Gensfleisch, or Gutenberg, gave life to one of the most important tools for the advancement of culture and knowledge: movable type. His goal was to achieve the serialized production of volumes that as nearly as possible resembled manuscript books. Between 1452 and 1455, he began to plan the production of the western world’s first printed books, including the famous 42-line Bible. To complete this monumental work, it was necessary to create 290 distinct typographic characters: specifically, 47 majuscule letters and 243 miniscule letters. The text was printed at first with 40 lines of text per page, across two columns; in the later stages of printing, this was changed to 42 lines. For this reason, the work is called the 42-line Bible.
The printed typeface mimicked the gothic script used in the handwritten missals of the Rhine region. The text was printed either on vellum or on paper imported from Italy; of the copies that survive today, 150 are paper and 35 are vellum. The printing was done with an oil-based ink containing copper, lead and titanium. To justify the text blocks, Gutenberg used spaces of varying sizes, different punctuation marks, ligatures, and abbreviations of words. Although the work has no colophon, the printing was done in collaboration with the printer Johann Fust (who financed the project) and the renowned scribe Peter Schöffer. The printing was completed over the course of three years; four compositors worked on the project from the beginning, with an additional two joining the team before the work was done.
When completed, each Bible comprised two folio volumes. The text follows the St Jerome Vulgate, translated in the fifth century. Please also see volume 2.
In 2001, UNESCO added the Gutenberg Bible to its ‘Memory of the World’ register.