February 23, 2018: 563rd Anniversary of the Gutenberg Bible

MAINZ, Germany – February 23, 2018, is the 563rd anniversary of the first printing of the Gutenberg Bible, marking one of the most significant technological achievements of all time.

Many people think that the Bible was the first product of Gutenberg’s work. Yet others believe that Gutenberg invented the printing press. Neither of these is true.

Wood-block printing presses had been in use since the Third Century A.D. Gutenberg’s contribution was the addition of movable type, which, among the other benefits, allowed even spacing between letters and words. His other advances included the development of a mechanism that allowed for what was then mass-production and the production of a type that malleable yet sturdy enough for large volumes of printing. The impact of his design “allowed a printer to produce in a single day what has previously taken a scribe an entire year.”

We do not have a precise date for when the Gutenberg press was completed, but there is evidence for some material from it existing in late 1454.

Gutenberg chose to print Jerome’s Latin Vulgate of both the Old and New Testaments. Although not known to a certainty, scholars believe that about 180 copies were produced, of which only 21 complete versions exist today.

The Gutenberg printing press became even more instrumental in the advancement of the Protestant Reformation half a century later.

Printers realized that their best way to get a return on their investment and make a profit was to print pamphlets. They were inexpensive for customers who could read, and they were short, which meant that they could be produced in large quantities.

Martin Luther’s 95 Theses created such a stir in 1517 that printers realized that the public demand for copies was, in effect, a gold-mine.

Although the Gutenberg printing press is best known for the Bible he printed, it may have more profoundly impacted the world by the providing the vehicle by which the Reformation was most widely spread.

Nonetheless, his famous Bible may well be Gutenberg’s greatest work. Even more so than his printing press.

Disclaimer: Some sources believe that the date of the publication of the Gutenberg Bible was several months later than February 23rd, 1455.


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