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Did you ever wonder what was the first mass produced book?
The first mass produced printed book was the Bible, a version based on the Latin edition from about 380 AD.. The Bible was printed at Mainz, Germany by Johannes Gutenberg from 1452 -1455.. Although German bibliographers claim that it was may also have been finished and perfected by Johann Fust, a wealthy financier who gained Gutenberg's share of the business in a lawsuit; and Peter Schöffer, Gutenberg's assistant. 

The first copy that attracted attention was discovered about 1760 among the books of the French statesman Cardinal Jules Mazarin. The book is the first volume known to have been printed with movable metal type. At least one book of the Bible has been published in 1,808 languages since the Bible was first printed.

The history of the printed Bible with movable type is the subject of considerable scholarly debate. Fragments of earlier bibles have also been found - they are differentiated by the number of lines of text on a page. Scholars have identified several variants and attempted to work out the sequence of development on the basis of the quality of the individual pieces of type.

The oldest surviving Bible printed with movable type is often called the Gutenberg Bible (named after its printer Johannes Gutenberg), or the 42-line Bible (so called because with few exceptions, each page has 42 lines of print), or the Mazarin Bible (because the first copy to recapture attention in 1760 was found in the library of Cardinal Jules Mazarin, in Paris).

In 1440, German inventor Johannes Gutenberg invented a printing press process that, with refinements and increased mechanization, remained the principal means of printing until the late 20th century. The inventor's method of printing from movable type, including the use of metal molds and alloys, a special press, and oil-based inks, allowed for the first time the mass production of printed books. 

The Bible, printed at Mainz, probably required several years of work; it began in 1452 and was completed not later than 1455 and printed in an edition of about 180 copies. The text of the Bible is Latin. Colored initials and other illuminations were hand drawn after the pages were printed. The Gutenberg Bible lacks many print features that modern readers are accustomed to, such as pagination, word spacing, indentations, and paragraph breaks.

First page of the Gutenberg Bible courtesy the British Library

The Bible was large comprising over 1280 pages, and the text was laid out in two columns. The German Gothic type-style was modeled on manuscripts of the period. The columns of text are tightly justified right and left. This is possible because Latin words can be abbreviated by replacing letters with symbols. The printed text was black, with red and blue headers and initials being added later by an illuminator. The edition includes both vellum and paper copies. In design and workmanship, the Gutenberg Bible holds its place as one of the finest of all printed books.
The very first pages Gutenberg printed had only 40 lines per column. Later in the course of printing, Gutenberg realized the paper could accommodate 42 lines and so the pages were reset and printed again in the new format. The original pages of 40 lines were included in the very first issue of the Gutenberg Bible.

As of 2003, the Gutenberg Bible census includes 11 complete copies on vellum, 1 copy of the New Testament only on vellum, 48 substantially complete integral copies on paper, with another divided copy on paper, and an illuminated page (the Bagford fragment).

To Learn More

Invention of the Printing Press   from The Great Idea Finder
Johannes Gutenberg Biography   from The Great Idea Finder


100 Inventions That Shaped World History
by Bill Yenne, Morton, Dr. Grosser (Editor) / Paperback - 112 pages (1983)
/ Bluewood Books 
This book contains inventions from all around the world from microchips to fire. This is a really good book if you are going to do research on inventions.

A History of Mechanical Inventions
by Abbott Payson Usher / Paperback: 450 pages / Dover Pub.; Rev. ed edition (1988)
This completely revised and updated classic explores the importance of technological innovation in the cultural and economic history of the West. Specific topics include invention of the printing, press.
The Book on the Bookshelf
by Henry Petroski  / Paperback: 304 pages / Vintage (September 12, 2000)
Consider the book. Though Goodnight Moon and Finnegans Wake differ considerably in content and intended audience, they do share some basic characteristics. They have pages, they're roughly the same shape, and whether in a bookstore, library, or private home, they are generally stored vertically on shelves.
The Gutenberg Bible : Landmark in Learning
by James E. Thorpe / Hardcover - 48 pages 2nd edition (1997) / H E Huntington Library & Art
The Huntington Library holds one of the three vellum copies of the Gutenberg Bible in the United States. Details the early history of printing and how the Gutenberg Bible was printed. .

The Bible for Children : From the Age of Gutenberg to the Present
Ruth B. Bottigheimer / Hardcover - 338 pages / Yale Univ. Press - 1996

Bottigheimer has meticulously researched these changes and produced a work that should appeal not only to Biblical scholars but to any of us interested in the making of that monumental book.
The Coming of the Book: The Impact of Printing 1450-1800
by Lucien Febvre, Henri-Jean Martin, David Gerard / 
Paperback: 378 pages / Verso; (Reprint.1997)
Yet the emergence of the book was a process of immense historical importance and heralded the dawning of the epoch of modernity.

Gutenberg (Limited availability.)
Leonard Everett Fisher / Library Binding - 28 pages / Simon & Schuster - 1993

Fisher's biography of Johann Gutenberg, the creator of movable type and the printer of the Gutenberg Bible, is marked by careful research, clear writing, and striking illustrations

Gutenberg Museum
His name is associated with innovation, activity and courage. His idea is the foundation stone of modern civilization. Johannes Gensfleisch zum Gutenberg created the basis of modern communication with his invention of printing with mobile letters.
Gutenberg Bible
On this site you will find the British Library’s two copies of Johann Gutenberg’s Bible, the first real book to be printed using the technique of printing which Gutenberg invented in the 1450s.
The Printing Press
In spite of Gutenberg's efforts to keep his technique a secret, the printing press spread rapidly. Before 1500 some 2500 European cities had acquired presses.
Johannes Gutenberg and The Printed Book
The printing press had developed from the wine press in the Rhine Valley. It was there in 1440 that Johannes Gutenberg (c.1397-1468) began using the printing press in conjunction with a series of blocks each bearing a single letter on its face.
The Catholic Encyclopedia
Detail on the Gutenberg bible. Henne Gänsfleisch zur Laden, commonly called Gutenberg. The invention of Gutenberg should be classed with the greatest events in the history of the world.
The Information Age and the Printing Press: Looking Backward to See Ahead
There are some provocative parallels between the communications changes enabled by networked computers and those enabled by the printing press in its early days. Article by James A. Dewar

Gutenberg Apprentice Speaks
Peter Schoeffer, once an apprentice to Gutenberg and now partner in his own business. explains what fueled the invention of the printing press. School project.
Biblia Sacra
Biblia Sacra is an electronic bibliography, allowing its users to request information (text and reproductions) on bibles printed in the Netherlands and Belgium.
Biblia latina
The first substantial work printed from moveable metal type, the so-called Gutenberg or 42-line Bible, produced in Mainz around 1455 by Johann Gutenberg, Johann Fust and Peter Schoeffer. The illustration is added by hand to the printed text. Fifty copies of this edition survive, not all of them complete.Copy located at the Cambridge University Library .
Johannes Gutenberg - "Man of the Millennium"
In honor of his invention, Gutenberg was recently chosen by an international panel of scientists as the "most outstanding personality of the millennium."

Gutenberg Bible at the British Library
On this site you will find the British Library’s two copies of Johannes Gutenberg’s Bible, the first real book to be printed using the technique of printing which Gutenberg invented in the 15th Century.


  • In less than 50 years after the invention of the printing press, fifteen million books had been flung into a world where previously scholars would travel miles to visit a library stocked with twenty hand-written volumes. And those books reflected some thirty thousand titles.
  • Books produced in this period, between the first work of Johann Gutenberg in 1450 and the year 1500, are collectively referred to as incunabula.
  • Gutenberg changed plans at least three times while printing the Bible
  • The Bible that Gutenberg printed was a Latin translation from about 380 AD 
  • There are many statues of Gutenberg in Germany -- one of the more famous being a work by Thorvaldsen, in Mainz, home to the Gutenberg Museum.
  • Note: We discovered as many spellings with Johann as we did with Johannes. We went with a Google search that produced four times more Johannes Gutenberg's than Johann
Reference Sources in BOLD Type This page revised June 18, 2006.
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