At London’s Frieze Masters art fair next week, the Switzerland-based Dr. Jörn Günther Rare Books will offer for sale the largest Gutenberg Bible fragment currently known in private hands or available on the market. The 13-leaf, handsomely rubricated fragment is comprised of the complete Book of Joshua and the beginning of Judges from Gutenberg’s famous Latin Bible, printed in the 1450s. The price is €2,000,000 ($2.25 million).
According to the bookseller, Johann Gutenberg printed only 185 copies of his 42-line Bible, the first major book printed in the West using movable type. Some 48* copies have survived, only 20 of which are complete. Single leaves occasionally appear at auction (selling for $50,000 and up), and earlier this year, Sotheby’s New York sold an eight-page fragment deaccessioned from New York’s Jewish Theological Seminary for $970,000. A complete copy of the Gutenberg Bible, however, has not been seen at auction since 1978.
In a press release, Dr. Jörn Günther Rare Books described the fragment’s provenance: “The present remarkable fragment comprising 13 leaves originates from the Bible of Mannheim Court Library, which was incorporated into the Bavarian Court Library in Munich, c. 1800 and was then sold as an incomplete duplicate. Since 1832 it was in the hands of Robert Curzon, 14th Baron Zouche (1810-1873), in whose family it remained for three generations. In the 1920s it was dispersed it in single books and leaves. Our Book of Joshua comes from the collection of the great bibliophile Otto Schäfer (Schweinfurt), who bought it in 1965 from H. P. Kraus (New York).”
*Some sources say 49.