British Library Treasures in full: Gutenberg Bible
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5. The vellum

Before paper was introduced to Europe books were written on specially prepared animal skins, vellum or parchment. Handwritten books on paper became more common during the 15th century before the invention of printing, but vellum continued to be used. Vellum was also used for printed books. Because it was thought to last longer it was quite often used for schoolbooks. Vellum was more expensive so it was also used for more luxurious copies.

There are 48 copies of the Gutenberg Bible still in existence, not all of them complete, some being only substantial fragments of one of the two volumes. Of these, 12 are printed on vellum, in this case calf's skin. The Grenville copy of the Gutenberg Bible is printed on vellum.

Detail of folio 120 verso of vol.1 of the vellum copy
Detail of folio 120 verso of vol.1 of the vellum copy. The skin has been repaired with needle and thread. Larger image

You can see how much more uneven the surface is. If the skin got damaged during preparation it could simply be sown together again.

The skin of about 170 calves would have been required for each copy of the Bible printed on vellum.

Tell Me More
1. The types
2. The press
3. The ink
4. The paper
5. The vellum
6. Composition and presses
7. The gatherings
8. Three phases in the printing process
9. How many

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