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Eight-page section containing the Book of Esther was part of 15th-century edition cut up and sold in pieces by New York book dealer in 1920s
An eight-page fragment from the Gutenberg Bible, the first major book to be printed using Johann Gutenberg’s printing press in 15th-century Germany, will go up for sale at Sotheby’s in New York next week, and is expected to fetch at least half a million dollars.
Gutenberg, inventor of the movable-type printing press, is said to have printed 180 copies of the bible on paper and vellum in the 1450s. Around 49 copies of “varying completeness” survive today, said Sotheby’s, which will auction its fragment on 19 June, estimating it will sell for between $500,000 and $700,000.
The fragment is of eight consecutive leaves from the Bible, comprising the entire Book of Esther “handsomely rubricated in red and blue”, as well as the end of Judith, the prologue of St Jerome to Esther, and the beginning of the first prologue of Jerome to Job. It comes from the Gutenberg Bible of New York book dealer Gabriel Wells, who decided in 1921 to sell off his edition leaf by leaf, charging $150 a leaf, “in view of the many already missing leaves”, said Sotheby’s. According to the auction house, “the venture was successful and earned him publicity, the New York Times commenting that Wells was ‘spreading the Gospel among the rich’.”
Wells’s eight-page fragment was bought by Mortimer Schiff, who gave it to New York’s Jewish Theological Seminary, which is now selling it via Sotheby’s. “Single leaves of the famous 42-line Bible occasionally turn up at auction - one recently sold at Swann Galleries for $55,000 – but a complete copy hasn’t been seen at auction since 1978, so this sizable section is estimated to make at least $500,000 for its consignor,” wrote Rebecca Rego Barry for Fine Books Magazine.