Approximately 180 copies of the Gutenberg Bible were printed and first made available in about 1455. Of these, 145 were done on paper. The remaining thirty-five were printed on vellum (treated calfskin). Forty-nine Bibles survived into the twentieth century and only twenty-one of these are complete. Of the thirty-five vellum copies, only three exist as complete copies. The Library’s copy is one of those three. The others are at the Bibliothèque Nationale (Paris) and the British Library (London).
In spite of the detailed and minute levels of research lavished on the Gutenberg Bible, very little is known about Johann Gutenberg (1400–1468). His precise birth date is unknown and little information exists about his parents or his family in adulthood.
It is important not to call this Bible the first printed book. Evidence exists that moveable metal type was used in Korea nearly a century before Gutenberg. “The first book printed with moveable metal type in Western Europe” is an accurate description.
Printing with moveable type revolutionized not only the book but the very nature of communication in Western Europe. Texts once scarce and complicated to produce now flooded all corners of Europe. Out of this explosion of text emerged the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Scientific Revolution.
Biblia latina (Bible in Latin), Mainz, Johann Gutenberg, 1455. Otto Vollbehr Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress