Research by Eric White, the curator of rare books at Princeton University, has revealed that the early history of the UT’s copy of the Gutenberg Bible might be Dutch.
“Research on both the provenance of this copy and its distribution now has a firm new foothold in the Netherlands,” White said at his lecture on the complex past of UT’s Gutenberg Bible, which took place Thursday at the Harry Ransom Center.
UT’s copy of the Bible had a turbulent life, White said. The Bible has been owned by earls, dukes and failed actors, won at tournaments and auctions, and purchased for grand rare books libraries.
“Texas got the right Bible,” White said. “This copy is perhaps the most interesting of all.”
Purchase records for this copy exist for fewer than ten of its most recent owners, leaving hundreds of years of ownership unaccounted for. Because of this lack of reliable records, those who studied the Bible looked to its external attributes to find its origin, White said. The presence of certain physical characteristics led him to believe the Bible has Dutch beginnings.
The Gutenberg Bible at UT, one of only eight complete copies in the U.S., is unique from the others in part because of its mismatched bindings, annotations in the margins and typographical error.
“It’s like no other Gutenberg out there,” said Emilio Englade, a docent who has worked at the Harry Ransom Center for six-and-a-half years
Rev. Marcus J. Serven, a former pastor at the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Austin, was drawn to the lecture because of the Bible’s rich historical significance.
“The printing press in many ways launched the Reformation,” Serven said.
Serven teaches a class on the Protestant Reformation at his church and brought several of his students to the lecture.
“The fact that UT was able to get their hands on one of these copies just kind of solidifies that this institution is a big deal,” government sophomore Lyndsey Glasgow said. “Being a student, I take a lot of pride that I go here, but I forget our influence in the arts.”
Although White’s research has moved the rare books community further along in their attempt to understand this Bible’s genesis, he acknowledged that there are many obstacles to unlocking its full story.
“Rule number one in Gutenberg studies is that we must tolerate mysteries,” White said.