The detailed format of the printed bible is a possible imitation of a Mainz illuminated manuscript, the so called Giant Bible of Mainz (Biblia latina), whose 1300 pages were written between 1452 and 1453.
Preparation of the Bible began soon after 1450, and the first finished copies were available in 1454 or 1455, using a printing press and movable type. This Bible is the most famous incunabulum and its production marked the beginning of the mass production of books in the West. It is believed that about 180 copies of the Bible were produced, a number which marks a sharp contrast with the prior technology for European societies which, from time immemorial, had to produce copies of written works laboriously by hand. Gutenberg produced these Bibles (which were printed, then rubricated and illuminated by hand, the work of specialized craftsmen) over a period of a year, the time it would have taken to produce one copy in a Scriptorium. Because of the hand illumination, each copy is unique.
The paper size is 'double folio', with two pages printed on each side (making a total of four pages per single paper). After printing the paper is folded once to the size of a single page . Five of these folded papers (carrying 20 printed pages) were combined to a single physical section, called quinternion, that could then be bound into a book. It is possible that the some sections were printed in a larger number, especially those printed later in the publishing process, and sold unbound. Pagenumbering was not used in the Gutenberg-bible. This whole technique of course was not new, since it was used already to make white-paper books to be written afterwards. New was the necessity to determine beforehand the right place and orientation of each page on the five papers, so as to end up in the right reading sequence. Also, getting the location of the printed area right on the page is a printing technique not in writing. The folio size, 307 x 445 mm, has the ratio of 1.45. The printed area had the same ratio, and was shifted out of the middle to leave a 2:1 white margin, both horizontally and vertically. The scolar Man writes that the ratio is chosen because of being close to the golden ratio of 1.61. To reach this ratio more closely the vertical size should be 338 mm, but there is no reason why Guthenberg would leave this non-trivial difference of 8 mm go by in such a detailed work in other aspects.
Each unique character requires a master piece of type in order to be replicated. Given that each letter has uppercase and lowercase forms, and the number of various punctuation marks and ligatures (e.g. the sequence 'fi' combined in one character, commonly used in writing) the Gutenberg Bible needed a set of 290 master characters.
As of 2007, there are 48 Gutenberg 42-line Bibles known to exist, of which 21 are perfect. This includes eleven complete copies (four of which are perfect) on vellum, and one copy of the New Testament only on vellum. In addition, there are a substantial number of fragments, some as small as individual leaves—at least one copy is known to have been partially broken up to be sold in parts.
The country with the most copies is Germany, which has twelve, whilst the United States has eleven and the United Kingdom eight. Mainz, Russia and the Vatican City contain two copies, Paris and London have three copies, and New York has four copies. Three identified copies have been lost — two disappeared from Leipzig after the end of the Second World War, and one is known to have been destroyed along with the library of the Catholic University of Leuven in 1914. However, the former two were rediscovered in recent years, both in Moscow, where they had been taken.
A full listing of known copies and brief details on their condition can be found in the British Library's Incunabula Short Title Catalogue, ISTC number ib00526000. The 36-line bible is catalogued as ISTC number ib00527000. Copy numbers are as found in the ISTC, taken from a 1985 survey of existing copies by Ilona Hubay; the two copies in Russia were not known to exist in 1985, and so were not catalogued. A more detailed census, with some notes on provenance, is online at Clausen Books "Perfect" or "imperfect" refers to completeness—whether a volume still contains all its leaves.
|Austria (1)||Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna||27||Perfect, paper|
|Belgium (1)||Bibliothèque universitaire, Mons||1||Imperfect, paper|
|Denmark (1)||Kongelige Bibliotek, Copenhagen||12||Vol. II, imperfect, paper|
|France (4)||Bibliothèque nationale, Paris||15||Perfect, vellum|
|17||Imperfect, paper. Contains note by binder dating it to August 1456|
|Bibliothèque Mazarine, Paris||16||Perfect, paper|
|Bibliothèque Municipale, Saint-Omer||18||Imperfect, paper|
|Germany (12)||Gutenberg Museum, Mainz||8||One copy is vol. I, imperfect, paper; the other both vols., imperfect, paper. It is unclear which is which.|
|Landesbibliothek, Fulda||4||Vol. I, imperfect, vellum|
|Universitätsbibliothek, Leipzig||14||Imperfect, vellum|
|Niedersächsische Staats-und Universitätsbibliothek, Göttingen||2||Perfect, vellum|
|Staatsbibliothek, Berlin||3||Imperfect, vellum|
|Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich||5||Perfect, paper|
|Stadt- und Universitätsbibliothek, Frankfurt-am-Main||6||Perfect, paper|
|Hofbibliothek, Aschaffenburg||7||Imperfect, paper|
|Württembergische Landesbibliothek, Stuttgart||10||Imperfect, paper. Purchased in April 1978 for 2.2 million US dollars.|
|Stadtbibliothek, Trier||11||Vol.I?, imperfect, paper. Possibly sister volume to Hubay 46, in Indiana|
|Landesbibliothek, Kassel||12||Vol. I, imperfect, paper|
|Japan (1)||Keio University Library, Tokyo||45||Vol. I, imperfect, paper. Purchased in October 1987 for either 4.9 or 5.4 million US dollars (sources disagree)|
|Poland (1)||Biblioteka Seminarium Duchownego, Pelpin||28||Imperfect, paper|
|Portugal (1)||Portuguese National Library, Lisbon||29||Perfect, paper|
|Russia (2)||Russian National Library||-||Imperfect, vellum|
|Lomonosov University Library, Moscow||-||Perfect, paper|
|Spain (2)||Biblioteca Universitaria y Provincial, Seville||32||Vol. II, imperfect, paper|
|Biblioteca Pública Provincial, Burgos||31||Perfect, paper|
|Switzerland (1)||Bibliotheca Bodmeriana, Cologny||30||Imperfect, paper|
|United Kingdom (8)||British Library, London||?||Perfect, vellum|
|National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh||26||Perfect, paper|
|Lambeth Palace Library, London||20||Vol. II (New Testament only), imperfect, vellum|
|Eton College Library, Eton||23||Perfect, paper|
|John Rylands Library, Manchester||25||Perfect, paper|
|Bodleian Library, Oxford||24||Perfect, paper|
|University Library, Cambridge||22||Perfect, paper|
|United States (11)||The Morgan Library & Museum, New York||37||Imperfect, vellum|
|Library of Congress, Washington DC||35||Perfect, vellum|
|New York Public Library||42||Imperfect, paper|
|Widener Library, Harvard University||40||Perfect, paper|
|Beinecke Library, Yale University||41||Perfect, paper|
|Scheide Library, Princeton University||43||Imperfect, paper|
|Lilly Library, Indiana University||46||Imperfect, paper. Possibly sister volume to Hubay 11, in Trier|
|Henry E. Huntington Library, San Marino||36||Imperfect, vellum|
|University of Texas at Austin||39||Perfect, paper. Purchased in 1974 for 2.4 million US dollars.|
|Vatican City (2)||Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana||33||Imperfect, vellum|
|34||Vol I, imperfect, paper|