Dating a printed bible

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Probably the most famous Bible in the world, Gutenberg's 42-line Bible is the earliest full-scale work printed in Europe using movable type.It was made in Mainz, Germany by Johann Gutenberg and associates.In 1454 they showed their product to an international audience in Frankfurt, perhaps even before the project was completed.They must have been aware that a successful launch would be much easier if they began with a high-profile book of importance beyond their local area.Piccolomini had seen parts of it and it had such neat lettering that one could read it without glasses. Gutenberg's invention did not make him rich, but it laid the foundation for the commercial mass production of books.The success of printing meant that books soon became cheaper, and ever wider parts of the population could afford them.We know for certain about this first printed Bible from a letter of 12 March 1455.

This is not an obvious choice of text, for the Bible was not very central to the daily life of the Church in the 15th century.The text is the Vulgate: St Jerome's Latin translation, the 'international standard' version of the time.Only 48 copies are known to have survived, of which 12 are printed on vellum and 36 on paper.The highlighted initial letters and consistent letter shapes make this comfortable for the eye to follow.It is easy, for instance, to pick out the magnificently simple sentence 'Fiat lux' - 'Let there be light'.

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