Convenors: Dr Elizabeth Savage, Dr Eric White

5-9 July 2021 (Full course) | 14:00-17:00 | Online

This course introduces the Gutenberg Bible, printed in Mainz ca. 1455, the first substantial book printed in Europe with moveable type. Today, Johannes Gutenberg’s famous 42-Line Bible is perhaps the most researched of all books, but centuries of solid scholarship have been undermined by national bias, myth, and hype. This course aims to sweep away misconceptions by starting over. It examines afresh the early documentary and physical evidence relating to the surviving copies. By doing so, it asks what we know we know about this landmark in European cultural history.

Students will apply a range of bibliographical and historical research methods to physical and documentary evidence, including archival documents and legal records, marks of use and ownership, illumination, bindings, and typographical details in copies and fragments of the Gutenberg Bible. The course will feature a virtual live viewing of Princeton University’s Gutenberg Bible. At the end of the course, participants will have a deep, evidence-based understanding of the production, early reception, and geographic dissemination of copies of Europe’s first significant edition; a portfolio of advanced research skills relevant to early European printed material; and, more broadly, a critical engagement with the history of bibliographical research.

This is an introductory course. No specialist prior knowledge is required although it is anticipated that students will have some familiarity with book history or incunabula (books printed in Europe 1450–1500). Primary materials include documents in Latin and German, but all are available in English translations. Participants on London Rare Books School courses are normally expected to hold an undergraduate degree. For more information, please contact the Director.

An introductory reading list will be sent to registered students in advance. Other course materials will be made available through the dedicated course website. All materials will be accessed through digital facsimiles or live streams from collections.

Course fees are £350 (standard) and £200 (student).

Required preliminary reading: Eric White, Editio princeps: A History of the Gutenberg Bible (Harvey Miller Publishers, 2017), chapters 1–3

Course schedule

The course will consist of live sessions on consecutive afternoons as detailed below. Students will also be required to complete short tasks in preparation for each of the live sessions.

Monday 5 July, 1400-1700 BST

Europe’s First Printer

-- Gutenberg, his Invention, and his Myth

-- The Earliest European Printing with Moveable Type


Tuesday 6 July, 1400-1700 BST

The Work of the Books

-- A Tour of Princeton’s Gutenberg Bible

-- Material Evidence and Book History


Wednesday 7 July, 1400-1700 BST  

-- Why Copy Specifics Matter

-- Finishing for Use: Rubrication, Illumination; Binding


Thursday 8 July, 1400-1700 BST


-- First Reactions and Impact

-- Dissemination: Evidence of Early Provenance


Friday 9 July, 1400-1700 BST  

-- Afterlives of the Gutenberg Bibles

-- Fragments as Evidence