Library Of Congress Gutenberg Bible - Atlas Obscura

Library Of Congress Gutenberg Bible

Library of Congress

One of the three perfect vellum copies of this historic book known to exist is on display in a specially-designed case. 

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Of the estimated 160-185 copies of the Gutenberg Bible that were printed, just 49 are known to have survived to the present day, and only 21 of those are complete. One of these complete copies is on permanent display at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

Often cited as the first major book ever printed using movable type, the initial bible printed by Johannes Gutenberg was actually predated by a 31-page indulgence that was printed on October 22, 1454. The full bible was in preparation as early as 1450, but the actual finished copies did not appear until 1454-1455.

The copy at the Library of Congress is printed on vellum and bound in three vellum-covered volumes. About three-quarters of the Gutenberg Bibles were printed on paper and one-quarter were printed on vellum. This particular copy is one of just three perfect vellum copies in existence. (The other two are located at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris and the British Library in London.)

The bible was purchased from Dr. Otto Vollbehr in 1930. Vollbehr was a chemist and inventor by trade, but his true passions were books and antiquities. The bible was the crown jewel and part of a larger cache of literary treasures acquired in the aforementioned purchase.

In 2018, the bible was transferred from its old display case into a new, 11-foot-tall vertical case designed to better preserve the centuries-old book. The case maintains a consistent temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit with stable humidity and an early warning fire prevention system.

Frosted mirrors, illumination, and a cradle create a remarkable illusion that the book is floating. Most definitely one of the most handsomely presented literary works in the world.

Know Before You Go

The Gutenberg Bible is located in a corridor off of the Great Hall of the Thomas Jefferson Building

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