This copy was in the possession of the Benedictine Order for nearly five centuries before it was acquired by Dr. Otto Vollbehr from the Abbey of Saint Paul in eastern Carinthia, Austria.
Perhaps because of its significance as a vellum copy, all owners have left their mark. The largest bookplate is that of the Benedictine monastery of Saint Blasius, the owner of the work until the late eighteenth century. The Benedictines had the Bible rebound into three volumes in its late sixteenth-century white pigskin binding.
The Bible remained in place through several manifestations of the monastery, until 1925, when it was placed on deposit with an option to buy in the hands of a private German industrialist and collector, Dr. Otto Vollbehr.
It took an act of Congress to bring the Gutenberg Bible to the Nation’s Library. In 1926, Dr. Vollbehr came to the United States with a collection of more than 3,000 fifteenth-century books. His last stop was Washington, D.C., where more than 100 of these books were exhibited here in the Great Hall of the Library of Congress.
Dr. Vollbehr proposed that if a benefactor would buy half the collection, he would donate the other. This offer caught the interest of a Democratic Congressman from Mississippi, Ross Alexander Collins, who, after an impassioned speech on the floor of Congress, proposed to set aside $1.5 million of public funds to acquire the Vollbehr collection for the Library of Congress—all 3,114 volumes. In June 1930 President Hoover signed it into law.
Of course, at the center of the collection was the Gutenberg Bible—the stunning, three-volume, perfect copy printed on vellum—the book that today engages every visitor to the Great Hall.
Biblia latina (Bible in Latin), Mainz, Johann Gutenberg, 1455. Otto Vollbehr Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress