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Christian Works : Fragments from the 36-Line Bible

Pfister, Albrecht approximately 1420-approximately 1470, Gutenberg, Johann 1397?-1468

Christian Works

<p style='text-align: justify;'><p>Described by one writer as “by far the largest production of the first few decades after the invention of printing”, the 36 line Bible (B36) was printed between 1459 and 1461 in Bamberg. It is a reprint of the first edition of the Latin Vulgate, which was produced by Johannes Gutenberg in Mainz around 1455. While the Gutenberg Bible comprises 42 lines of text per page, the Bamberg edition has only 36 lines and as a result is much more voluminous. The type used is the earliest used by Gutenberg, the so called Donatus Kalender Type, named after some of the early works in which it was used. One of these is held by the University Library: the single-sheet <i>Cisioianus</i> printed probably by Gutenberg himself in Mainz around 1547 (and viewable on the Cambridge Digital Library <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='/view/PR-INC-00000-A-00001-00002-00006'>here</a>).</p><p>Because of the early date of this type, scholars once believed that the 36-line Bible preceded the more famous 42-line edition, which uses a different and smaller typeface. In 1890 Karl Dziatzko, librarian of the University of Göttingen, demonstrated that a copy of the 42-line Bible had been used as copy-text for much of its 36-line counterpart, demonstrating the priority of the B42. Gutenberg’s partnership had been dissolved in 1456, and it appears that by the end of the decade some of his printing equipment, and someone who knew how to operate it (possibly Gutenberg himself, but more likely one or more of his workers), had migrated to Bamberg. Evidence from the paper used confirms that the 36-line Bible was printed there, and the printer is now generally thought to be Albrecht Pfister, who would re-use the type in February 1461 for the fable collection 'Der Edelstein', the first book in German with illustrations. The type was last used in the 1470s by an unidentified printer of inferior skills, by which time both Gutenberg and Pfister were dead.</p><p>The B36 is much rarer than Gutenberg's B42. 15 copies are recorded, of which many are incomplete, plus a number of fragments. A complete copy contains 884 leaves bound in two or three volumes measuring just under 40 cm in height. The University Library possesses just 3 fragmentary leaves from a copy which was cut up to make pasteboards for a later binding; they contain portions of the Song of Solomon and Ecclesiasticus. These leaves were acquired at the sale of the library of F.G.H. Culemann of Hanover in February 1870. In 1918 the Library was given two additional leaves by the artist and connoisseur Charles Fairfax Murray. These were also extracted from a binding, and come from the rubrication table which gave directions as to how headings and initials were to be added to the printed Bible text by hand. This was common practice in the early years of printing; it was easier for such matter to be added in manuscript in a separate operation, rather than as part of the printing process. The rubrication table was generally discarded after use, and the Library’s two leaves (out of an original six) are the only copies of these particular leaves which survive.</p></p>

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