Johann Gutenberg’s Bible is probably the most famous Bible in the world. It is the earliest full-scale work printed in Europe using moveable type.

Gutenberg’s invention allowed the mass production of books for the first time and changed the world. Before Gutenberg, every book (outside of Asia where some printed books had been produced much earlier) had to be copied by hand. Now it was possible to speed up the process without sacrificing quality. His invention did not make him rich, but it laid the foundation for the commercial mass production of books, which subsequently meant that books soon became cheaper, and available to a much broader spectrum of society.

The Gutenberg Bible was printed in Mainz in 1455 by Johann Gutenberg and his associates, Johann Fust and Peter Schoeffer. Only 48 copies are known to have survived, of which 12 are printed on vellum and 36 on paper. Twenty are complete, two of them at the British Library, one printed on paper (shelfmark C.9.d.3,4.) and one printed on vellum (shelfmark G.12226-7). Many copies, including the British Library’s paper copy, married the new technology of printing with the old, and contain hand-painted decorations to imitate the appearance of an illuminated manuscript. 

This opening page begins with a large letter 'l' which fills most of the left-hand margin. Similarly, in the second column the letter 'P' extends into the space between the columns. Inside the letter is King Solomon wearing a white crown and red-and-white cape. In addition, the page is decorated with birds and a climbing monkey.

More details about Gutenberg, the Gutenberg Bible, and the printing process can be found on the Library's Treasures in Full website. Here you will find digitised copies of both our Bibles, the paper one and the vellum one.