New Provenance for a Princeton Fragment of the 36-Line Bible

Recent findings cast new light on the prehistory of the Scheide Library’s vellum fragment of the 36-Line Bible (Bamberg: Albrecht Pfister?, not after 1461) – probably the third printed Bible and one of the first books printed outside of Mainz. Closer analysis of the rubrication shows that the Princeton fragment, which John H. Scheide purchased from the bookseller Joseph Baer in Frankfurt am Main in 1934, was one of numerous pieces of vellum that a mid-seventeenth-century bookbinder in or near Bad Wildungen in Hesse, Germany, cut out of a discarded 36-Line Bible – evidently no longer needed for local Catholic worship – for the purpose of making archival document wrappers.

WHS.B36.vellum.fragment

The hand-colored initials and other markings in both the Scheide fragment and the fragments preserved at the municipal archives in Bad Wildungen were added by the same fifteenth-century rubricator. Moreover, whereas the Scheide fragment is the lower part of the leaf containing Psalms 10 through 13, a nearly identical fragment still at Bad Wildungen comprises the upper portion of the same leaf. Finally, thanks to recent inquiries to the archivist at Bad Wildungen, additional unrecorded fragments from this same Bible have been found within the archive. The results of this renewed scrutiny, which requires the identification of numerous very small scraps of printed text, are being prepared for publication in Germany.

The 36-Line Bible long has been the focus of intensive study, as its Gothic typeface was developed in Mainz during the early 1450s, almost certainly by Johannes Gutenberg. For book historians, the main takeaway from the study of the scattered fragments of the 36-Line Bible is that there appear to have been four different vellum copies of that Bible that ended up as binding waste, and one or possibly two paper copies, to go along with the fourteen reasonably intact paper copies that survive (no intact vellum copies have been recorded). This suggests a print run of significantly fewer copies of the 36-Line Bible than the 42-Line “Gutenberg” Bible (Mainz, c. 1455), which survives in more than three times as many specimens. Whereas most of the 36-Line Bibles have provenances traceable to the Diocese of Bamberg, the Bad Wildungen fragments come from a copy that appears to have been owned and recycled considerably to the northwest. The new provenance for the Scheide fragment now contributes to an important but often overlooked body of knowledge about the early spread of typography in Europe.

Introduction

An in-progress registry of book historical information from the rare book collections of the Princeton University Library. Postings are documentary: images of historic bindings, images of markings of ownership, such as signatures, inscriptions, etc., and other notable marks in books.

“Notabilia” is kin to such other blogs at the Princeton University Library as:

. Cotsen Children’s Library
News and announcements from the Cotsen Children’s Library, Princeton University
http://blogs.princeton.edu/cotsen

. Graphic Arts
Exhibitions, acquisitions, and other highlights from the Graphic Arts collection, Princeton University
http://blogs.princeton.edu/graphicarts

. Rare Book Collections @ Princeton
News of acquisitions, holdings, and activities of the Rare Book Division
http://blogs.princeton.edu/rarebooks