A leaf from the world’s most famous book

This month marks the 550th anniversary of the death of Johannes Gutenberg (1397?-1468), blacksmith, goldsmith, inventor and printer. To celebrate this, we have digitised our fragment from the Gutenberg Bible.

Leaf printed on vellum in black ink with manuscript rubrication in red

Recto of folio 317

The 42-line Bible in Latin was Europe’s first substantial book printed in ink on a printing press using moveable type, a technique of printing which Gutenberg invented. The ambitious work was completed by Gutenberg and his associates in Mainz, Germany, in around 1455. It is widely cited that about 180 copies were printed, comprising around a quarter on vellum with the rest of the edition on paper. Only 48 reasonably intact copies now survive (12 on vellum and 36 on paper) in addition to a number of fragments.1

Gutenberg’s masterpiece of printing was bound in two volumes. The Library holds a single leaf only from the second volume, folio 317 (end of Apocalypse), the final printed leaf of the Bible. Our leaf is printed on vellum in black ink with manuscript rubrication in red. The text is set in two columns in a design emulating the appearance of a medieval manuscript. Rubrication, which differs from one copy to another, was carried out after the printed sheets had left Gutenberg’s workshop with the aid of instruction leaves from the printer (attempts to print the rubrics were abandoned at an early stage in the print run).

Our fragment shows signs of damage which bear evidence that it was once used as binder’s waste in part of the binding of a now unknown volume. Bookbinders, particularly in the 16th and 17th centuries, often recycled manuscript and printed parchment from damaged or discarded books in their construction of new bindings; fragments were used within pasteboard layers or as spine linings, end leaves or even as outer wrappers. Our leaf was repaired by the Library’s Preservation and Conservation Department in December 1983; prior to that conservation treatment the leaf had been previously repaired, probably in the 19th century, but those earlier repairs had been causing active damage to the vellum.

The research of Dr Eric Marshall White, Curator of Rare Books at Princeton University Library, has thrown invaluable light on the Library’s fragment, identifying the copy of the Bible from which our leaf appears to have originated.2 The Hessische Landesbibliothek in Fulda, Germany, holds a single volume of the Gutenberg Bible which it acquired in 1776. It is the first volume only, printed on vellum and bound and illuminated in Erfurt in around 1460. The second volume of Fulda’s Gutenberg Bible, lost before 1723, was evidently taken apart for use as binder’s waste in the 17th century presumably due to damage. It is to this lost volume that Dr White has attributed our leaf.

Leaf printed on vellum in black ink with manuscript rubrication in red

Verso of folio 317

The image above shows the verso of our leaf with red headline ‘Apocalipsis’ in neat Gothic textura script, red Lombard chapter initial and red chapter numeral in textura script preceded by the abbreviated word ‘Cap.’ Dr White notes that the style of this manuscript rubrication precisely matches that of the first volume of the Fulda Bible and also matches another surviving fragment from the lost second volume. That fragment (folio 38, Ecclesiasticus) was found in the mid-20th century covering a 17th-century document at the Bibliothek des Bischöflichen Priesterseminar in Fulda.

For a comparison, the first volume of the Fulda Bible is available to view online. Other digitised copies of the Gutenberg Bible are listed in the Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke (Union catalogue of incunabula).


  1. For a discussion of the edition size see Paul Needham. ‘The paper supply of the Gutenberg Bible.’ In The papers of the Bibliographical Society of America. Vol. 79, Third Quarter, 1985, pp.303-374. For a census of vellum fragments see Eric Marshall White. ‘The Gutenberg Bibles that survive as binder’s waste’, in Early printed books as material objects. Proceedings of the conference organized by the IFLA Rare Books and Manuscripts Section. Munich, 19-21 August 2009. Bettina Wagner and Marcia Reed, eds. (Berlin: Walter De Gruyter, 2010), pp.21-35.
  2. A detailed account of the provenance of the Fulda Gutenberg Bible and a description of the Library’s leaf and the other surviving fragment is given in Eric Marshall White’s recent work Editio princeps: A history of the Gutenberg Bible (New York: Harvey Miller, 2017), pp.164-166 and p.308.
    We wish to thank Dr White for supplying details from the above work.


Revelling in Rackham

Arthur Rackham, the fourth of twelve children, was born in Lewisham on 19th September 1867. His father wanted him to have a career in business and he began as an insurance clerk, but attended Lambeth School of Art in the evenings, having won prizes for drawing at school. In 1892, after having illustrations published in the The Pall Mall Budget over the course of the previous year, he took a job there, moving to the new Westminster Budget the following year. After just a few years he was able to become a self-supporting book illustrator, also contributing to The Westminster Gazette and magazines such as Little Folks and Cassell’s Magazine, a career which continued until his death from cancer on 6th September 1939.

This self-portrait is the frontispiece to Derek Hudson’s biography of Rackham, published in 1960.

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A Swift repair


As a Heritage Council intern at Trinity College Library, I have the opportunity to work on several conservation projects supervised by conservators.  Last month, I worked with Andrew Megaw on a book entitled Letters written by the late J. Swift, D.D. Dean of St. Patrick’s, Dublin, and several of his friends. From the year 1703 to 1740. Published from the originals; with Notes explanatory and historical, by John Hawkesworth, L.L.D. In three volumes. A new edition. Volume I. London, 1766, shelfmark OLS L-11-584. Continue reading

Power and Belief: The Reformation at 500

A rare volume from Archbishop Thomas Cranmer’s confiscated library is now on show in the Library of Trinity College Dublin as part of a new exhibition, ‘Power and Belief: The Reformation at 500’.


Hus, J. ‘Epistolae quaedam piissimae …’ Press B.5.24

‘Epistolae quaedam piissimae …’ (1537) by the Czech reformer Jan Hus was once housed in the Library of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury. The work was last referenced in John Strype’s ‘Memorials of Cranmer’ (1694) as “… in the possession of a Reverend Friend of mine near Canterbury”.  Cranmer was burned as a heretic in 1556 and his books were confiscated by the authorities. The main collection was later absorbed into the library of Henry Fitzalan, 12th Earl of Arundel.

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Celebrating 350 years since the birth of Jonathan Swift

A new display, ‘Swift350’, has opened in the Long Room of the Old Library to mark the 350th anniversary of the birth of one of Trinity College Dublin’s most famous graduates, Jonathan Swift (1667-1745).

Engraved portrait of Jonathan Swift

Frontispiece portrait of Swift from ‘The Works of J.S, D.D, D.S.P.D. in four volumes’, Dublin, 1735. OLS L-11-396

Among the most widely read of all Irish writers, Swift is best known as the author of Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World (1726), now universally known as Gulliver’s Travels. His other works include A Tale of a Tub and The Battle of the Books and as a political pamphleteer, Swift is particularly known for A Proposal for the Universal Use of Irish Manufacture, The Drapier’s Letters and A Modest Proposal. Continue reading

The Best Bear in All the World

Winnie-the-Pooh, the storybook by A. A. Milne about the eponymous, much-loved teddy bear and his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood, first appeared in hardback on 14th October 1926. The bear himself, although at that stage unnamed, had made his debut in the 13th February 1924 issue of Punch, in a poem which was included later that year in the collection When we were very Young.

Punch, February 13,1924

Punch, February 13,1924 (Shelfmark 32.o.95)

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“Death of a Naturalist” at 50

On Tuesday 8th March, Dr Rosie Lavan from the School of English held an undergraduate class in the reading room. The students were examining twentieth-century material relating to Seamus Heaney, partly for their course work and partly in preparation for one of the first student-curated small exhibitions in the Long Room. This exhibition marks the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Death of a Naturalist, Seamus Heaney’s first collection of poetry.

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Turning Points

On Friday 29th and Saturday 30th April 2016, the Department of Italian here in TCD is hosting the Society for Italian Studies Interim Conference ‘Turning Points: Cultures of transition, transformation and transmission in Italy’. To coincide with this, Professors Corinna Salvadori-Lonergan and Cormac Ó Cuilleanáin, in conjunction with the Department of Early Printed Books, have prepared an exhibition in the Long Room of some of our Italian treasures.

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Celebrating Cervantes, 1616-2016

April 2016 marks the 400th anniversary of the death of both William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes, both of whom are the best-known writers in their respective countries of birth. They died, in fact, on consecutive days: Cervantes on the 22nd April, Shakespeare on the 23rd. The former was probably 68 years old, the latter younger at 52. The Library holds many editions of their works, both in their native languages and in translation, dating from the 16th century to the present day. Three editions of “Don Quixote” have been chosen to go on display at the entrance to the Berkeley Library, in celebration of the quatercentenary of the Spanish writer’s death and the enduring popularity of his great novel.

Cervantes: "Don Quixote" (London, 1756), ill. J. Vanderbank. Shelfmark: S.e.33

Shelfmark: S.e.33

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Alice – still looking good at 150

OLS Pol 739 portrait

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was written in 1865 by the mathematician Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-1898) under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll. The story of the title character’s fall down a rabbit hole, the strange creatures she meets and the odd circumstances in which she finds herself have made this fantasy one of the most popular children’s books ever written.

The first print run, of 2,000 copies, was suppressed because John Tenniel, the illustrator, objected to the ‘disgraceful’ print quality and fewer than 25 of these withdrawn copies survive. A new edition was released in time for the Christmas market the same year, but carrying an 1866 date. Trinity’s copy is at shelfmark Press K.3.7.
Press K.3.7 title Continue reading