From the National Library of Scotland’s copy of the Gutenberg Bible: the first page of Volume 2 with the beginning of the Old Testament Book of Proverbs

Gutenberg Bible to go on display for one day only

One of the world’s most treasured books, the Gutenberg Bible, will go on display at the National Library of Scotland on Thursday (22 November).

Produced in the 1450s by Johannes Gutenberg in Mainz, Germany, the Gutenberg Bible – as it later became known – was the first major book printed using moveable type in Europe.

Rare Books curator, Anette Hagan, said:

“The Gutenberg Bible is among the most precious items in our collections, and we’re delighted to bring it out for a day for people to see. It caused a sensation when it made its first appearance at the Frankfurt Bookfair in 1455, and to this day it has only gained in significance.

“The printing press was arguably the greatest technological advance in communications before the modern age, and transformed the way ideas and information circulated as much as the internet has done today. Without it, significant world events such as the Reformation would not have had the far-reaching and fast impact that they did, and in time, printing propelled a growth in literacy and the consumption of literature unimaginable in Gutenberg’s lifetime.”

The Bible will not be the only incunable (book printed before 1500 during the infancy of printing) available for viewing on Thursday. Also on display will be:

Vitae et sententiae philosophorum, Diogenes Laertius (3rd-century biographer of the Greek philosophers), printed by Nicolas Jenson in Venice, 1475. Jenson’s roman typeface still influences typography today. Printing played a key part in spreading the Renaissance rediscovery of the classical world.

Peregrinatio in Terram Sanctam, Bernhard von Breydenbach’s account of pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Printed by Erhard Reuwich in Mainz, 1486. Famous as the first illustrated travel book, this volume contains large woodcut panoramas of cities such as Jerusalem and Venice and the first Arabic alphabet in print.

Breviarium Romanum, printed by Nicolaus von Frankfurt in Venice, 1489, and
Horae: ad usum Parisiensem, printed by Philippe Pigouchet in Paris, 1493. Both are service books, one of which is the only surviving copy anywhere in the world.

The Library’s copy of the Gutenberg Bible is one of 20 complete copies still in existence. The entire journey from Mainz in Germany to the National Library is unknown. However, we do know it was owned by Lord Provost of Edinburgh David Steuart from as early as 1796. He sold it to the Advocates Library for 150 guineas around 1806. The Bible, along with all non-law-related collections of the Advocates Library, was passed to the National Library when it was established by an Act of Parliament in 1925.

The display will take place at the National Library of Scotland, George IV Bridge, Edinburgh, on Thursday 22 November from 10am–6pm.


Contact Information

Barbara Burke

National Library of Scotland

+44131 623 3738

+447904 791002

Notes to editors

The National Library of Scotland

The National Library of Scotland is a major European research library and one of the world’s leading centres for the study of Scotland and the Scots – an information treasure trove for Scotland’s knowledge, history and culture.

The Library’s collections are of world-class importance. Key areas include digital material, rare books, manuscripts, maps, music, moving images, official publications, business information, science and technology, and modern and foreign collections.

The Library holds more than 26 million physical items dating back over 1,000 years in addition to a growing library of e-books, e-journals and other digital material. Every week the Library collects around 3,000 new items. Most of these are received free of charge in terms of Legal Deposit legislation. / @natlibscot / facebook