August 24

The copy of the great bible printed by Johann Gutenberg in Maim, Germany and now in the possession of the Bibliothèque Nationale at Paris, contains a note in the hand of Heinrich Cremer of St. Stephens College, Mainz, dated this day in 1456,that he had completed the illumination, headings, and binding. This is the earliest known date in connection with the printing of this great book. From it can be deduced that the printing had been completed early in that year, if not some time late in 1455.

Professor Aloys Ruppel of the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz, the great authority on Gutenberg’s life, has stated that Gutenberg’s plan for the production of a bible must have been made by 1450.The project represented a gigantic undertaking for so early a period in the history of the craft of printing. The presses needed to be constructed, the type cast, paper manufactured, printers trained, and of course a great deal of money was necessary to guarantee the successful completion of the monumental task.

Gutenberg used the Latin Vulgate translation of St. Jerome which had been completed early in the 5th century. He planned a two-column page, with 42 lines in each column. The first nine pages contain 40 lines, as do pages 129 to 132.Page 10 has 41 lines, but the rest of the 1,282pages are composed in 42 lines, a fact which has given this edition its name. The Gutenberg Bible is bound in two volumes.

The edition ran to 150 copies on paper and about 35 on parchment. Each copy required 340 folio sheets of four pages each, or a total of 51,000 sheets for the entire printing. For the parchment copies 6,000 skins were needed, as but two sheets could be cut from one calfskin.

When the composition was begun, four compositors were required and two more were later added. The work was printed on six presses, each operated by a single pressman. The average working day at that period was of 12 hours duration, the printers working 8 hours in the winter and 16 hours in the summer. As there were 85 Sundays and festival days, there were 280 working days in the year. It has been estimated, that because Gutenberg wished to simulate manuscript bibles, and had therefore cut into type all of the tied or ligatured letters employed by the scribes (290 different characters), it took a compositor one day to set a single page. Six compositors could therefore have completed the job in 212 working days.

Due, however, to the necessity of distributing each page before another could be set and to the need for taking care of the other work of the printing office such as the printing of grammars, letters of indulgence, and the like, the net working time was probably over 400 days. Since the printing was begun in 1452, it took until 1455 at the very least to complete the composition of the folio volumes.

The presses were large enough to print but one page at a time of each four page signature; thus 185 copies of 1,282 pages added up to 23 1,170 separate impressions. Two pressmen could produce about ten pages an hour, with six presses turning out about 700 pages a day. It took, then, 340 days to print the entire Bible, but as the presses were also occupied with other printing from time to time, it probably was three years before the whole book was off the press.

Altogether, a magnificent task. Five hundred years later, there are but 47 known copies of the Gutenberg Bible, 12 on parchment and 35 on paper. It is still recognized as the finest achievement of the printer’s art.

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