Gutenberg Bible Leaves

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A Noble Fragment: Being a Leaf of the Gutenberg Bible, 1450-1455. With a bibliographical essay by Edward A. Newton. New York: Gabriel Wells, 1921.

The Cary collection holds two of Wells's portfolios with single disbound leaves from Johann Gutenberg's 42-line bible. One leaf is from the Book of Psalms, and the second is from the Book of Jeremiah. This dismantling of bound volumes for sale was once a common occurrence in the book trade. As described here:

"There are two documented cases of incomplete volumes taken apart by dealers and sold either as individual leaves or small groups of consecutive leaves. The book dealer Gabriel Wells took apart a volume II in 1921, and the publisher and book seller Charles Scribner’s Sons dis-bound another volume II for sale in 1953. These particular dealers would surely argue that selling smaller fragments was a good thing because more individuals or institutions would be able to see and hold at least one page of this monumental tome. Wells published a large-format pamphlet, fully bound in leather, to accompany the individual fragments he sold. And indeed, the noted collector A. Edward Newton, who wrote the essay published in this fine press edition, describes the pages thus: 'Reader: pause a while. For you look—and it may be for the first time—upon an actual page of a Gutenberg Bible, the most precious piece of printing in the world; and, admittedly, the earliest. Truly a noble fragment!'...The Wells fragment has the headlines written with alternating red and blue pigments and red rubrication."*

*From Museum of Biblical Art.

incunabula, Gutenberg, black letter, 15th Century
41 cm