In the 1440s, Johannes Gutenberg, a German inventor, developed the world’s first true printing press. His invention revolutionized the production of printed materials, greatly contributing to the availability of less expensive books and subsequent increase in literacy. One of Gutenberg’s first major printing projects, and arguably his famous, was the production of the first printed edition of the Bible. This first run of this book, now known as the Gutenberg Bible, is his greatest legacy other than the printing press itself. Of the 170 or so original copies printed, less than fifty survive today, and many of these are incomplete. Eleven copies have since made their way to the United States.
Library of Congress
The Library of Congress is the largest public library institution in the world, with one of the largest collections of rare and valuable books anywhere. Not surprisingly, it was one of the first places in America to boast a Gutenberg Bible. The copy here is one of only five in the world that is both complete and written on Vellum, making it one of the most valuable of all editions. Because it is publically displayed in America’s most visited library, the LOC Gutenberg Bible is the most viewed complete edition in the United States.
New York Public Library
New York, New York
The New York Public Library is the third largest public library in the world and the second largest in the United States after the Library of Congress. It was the first major institution outside of Europe to acquire a Gutenberg Bible. The copy on display here arrived in the United States in the mid-19th century. It is one of the more common paper editions and, unfortunately, not a complete copy. Because of this, while it is probably the most viewed copy anywhere in the world, it is not the most viewed complete edition, an honor which goes to the Library of Congress copy.
The Morgan Library & Museum
New York, New York
The Morgan Library and Museum in New York City began as the private collection of J.P. Morgan and was made into a public institution by his son in 1924. It is one of only a handful of library collections in the world that boast more than one copy of the Gutenberg Bible, though only one is complete. These priceless books were personally acquired by members of the Morgan family. Of the three copies kept here, the one on display is a complete copy on paper. The other two are an incomplete copy on paper and an incomplete copy on vellum.
Henry E. Huntington Library
San Marino, California
The Henry E. Huntington Library outside of Los Angeles, California is the only institution on the West Coast of the United States to own a Gutenberg Bible, and its copy is one of the best. It was part of the collection of Henry Huntington, a railroad tycoon who was pivotal in the development of turn-of-the-century California. The gallery is located on the grounds of the former family estate. The Huntington copy of the Gutenberg Bible is a complete edition on vellum, one of only five in the world and the only one in the United States outside of the Library of Congress.
Widener Library, Harvard University
The Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library of Harvard University is home to the bulk of the Harvard University Library, the world’s largest library on a college campus. It is home to an enormous collection of rare and priceless books, including a Gutenberg Bible. It is one of three Ivy League rivals, including Yale and Princeton, to boast a Gutenberg. The Harvard copy is a complete edition on paper.