Incunabula and the Keio University Library Collection


The 42-line Bible ([Mainz]: [Printer of the 42-line Bible (Johann Gutenberg)], [c. 1454-55])

Biblia latina, 42 lines

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The 42-line Bible, also known as the Gutenberg Bible or the Mazarin Bible, is considered to have been the first substantial book printed in Europe using movable metal types; its publication announced 'the printing revolution'. Some extant copies are printed on paper, and others on vellum. The text is that of the Vulgate, which was translated into Latin by St. Jerome in the fourth century. Around eighty editions of the Vulgate Bible printed in the incunabula period more or less followed this edition.

Although this Latin Bible has neither title-page nor colophon, it is now commonly accepted that Johann Gutenberg (c. 1400-68) of Mainz, Germany, produced this Bible around 1455. There are only a few pieces of evidence, such as records of a trial involving Gutenberg, that enable us to reconstruct his life and reveal the circumstances behind the invention of printing; he is presumed to have started experimenting in the art of printing in Strasbourg, in secrecy, around 1434, and then gone back to Mainz to establish a printing shop around 1444. He borrowed money from the Mainz money-broker, Johann Fust, to be spent on the 42-line Bible; Fust brought a suit against him when this work came near to completion, and the court decreed that Gutenberg must forfeit his printing instruments.

The printer modelled the general page layout of this work on that of contemporary manuscripts: the text is set in double columns of 42 lines each, in gothic type, and variant letter forms and contractions are frequently used, in accordance with the manuscript tradition. Spaces are reserved for the rubrication and decoration to be executed by hand: the incipits and explicits which announce the beginning and the end of each book (rubrics), the first initials of each book, prologue, and chapter, and the chapter numbers. In the first setting, fols 1r to 5r and 129r to 132r have forty lines per page, and there are forty-one lines on fol. 5v, and the rubrics are printed in red. After these pages were printed, two-colour printing was abandoned and the number of lines per page was changed to forty-two. The decision was then made to increase the number of copies to be printed, and there are two different settings in particular sections of this book. The edition size is presumed to have been about one hundred and eighty to two hundred copies; forty-eight of them are still extant (twelve of them are printed on vellum). In 1997, the HUMI (Humanities Media Interface) Project first digitized the Keio copy. Since then, thirteen copies have been digitized in total (eight of them by HUMI), and the work of comparing the copies has gradually progressed.

The Keio copy is printed on paper, and the second volume is missing. Most pages belong to the first setting, and the rubrics are printed in red on leaves 1 and 4. Quire 14 (fols 129 to 138) has a mixed setting: 14/1.10 (fols 129 and 138) are leaves from the second setting; 14/6 (fol. 134) is from the replacement setting, which is unique to this copy; the rest belong to the first setting. This anomaly leads to a unique mistake. The last three words on fol. 129v, 'autem non erant', are duplicated at the beginning of fol. 130r, and the mistake is indicated by red dots below the words on fol. 129v.

This copy had been in the ownership of a religious house in Mainz. The elegant illumination is also thought to have been executed in Mainz. Although it has been re-backed, the book is still in its fifteenth-century binding. The contemporary brown calf cover, bound over wooden boards, bears blind-stamps, ten round metal bosses have been preserved on both covers for protection, and two brass clasp fittings survive on the fore-edge of the upper cover. Four contemporary leather buttons remain on the fore-edge, which indexes the beginning of each book. The Keio copy is a rare example of a Gutenberg Bible that has been printed, illuminated, bound, and owned in Mainz.

富田修二『グーテンベルク聖書の行方』(東京: 図書出版社, 1992)
髙宮利行『グーテンベルクの謎』(東京: 岩波書店, 1998)
Ing, Janet, Johann Gutenberg and his Bible: A Historical Study (New York: Typophiles, 1988)



Place of Publication
[Printer of the 42-line Bible (Johann Gutenberg)]


Date of Publication
[c. 1455-55]

Contemporary brown calf over wooden boards, blind-stamped (Mainz binding according to Paul Schwenke, Johann Gutenbergs […] Bible, Leipzig, 1923, p. 16); edges plain; round bosses preserved on both covers; two brass clasp fittings preserved on fore-edge of upper cover; four plaited leather button rabs survive on fore-edge.

Bibliographical Notes

324 leaves; six-line initials mostly illuminated by a contemporary Rhenish (?Mainz) artist, in gold and colours.

Goff B526, H 3031*, BMC I 17, GW 4201, IJL 065, IJL2 075, T 15
Acquisition Year