Chronology : 1430-1459 1460-1479
1455 Gutenberg Bible
1987 SOLD for $ 5.4M including premium by Christie's
narrated in 2020
The work is divided into two volumes, respectively covering the Old and New Testaments in the Latin text of the Vulgate, with a total of 1,282 pages 42 x 30 cm in double folio format printed on both sides. Printing is done in black ink in two columns per page. The typography imitates handwriting. The color decoration and rubrication are not printed but a guide could be provided to the purchaser.
The original edition produced under the supervision of Gutenberg is estimated at 150 copies on paper plus 30 copies on vellum. 21 complete copies have survived, plus 13 limited to one of the two volumes and another 15 with several missing leaves.
On April 7, 1978, Christie's sold for $ 2.2M including premium a copy on paper, completed since the only missing leaf had been supplied in 1953 by a specialist bookseller. This almost perfect copy is currently kept at the Stuttgart State Library.
On October 22, 1987, Christie's sold for $ 5.4M including premium a Volume I on paper, clean and fresh in its original Mainz binding. This book is currently kept at a private university in Japan.
1455 Gutenberg Bible
1978 SOLD for $ 2.2M including premium by Christie's
1455 The Bible of Gutenberg and Fust
2015 SOLD for $ 970K including premium
The Gutenberg Bible is the first printed book and also one of the finest. It is printed in royal folio 39 x 28 cm in two columns per page of Gothic script imitating luxury manuscripts. Three years are needed to print 180 copies of this edition, from 1452 to 1455.
This is a superb technical achievement already including the strict alignment of the edges of columns, what is now called justification. A copyist took three years to complete a manuscript of the same magnitude, 643 folios distributed in two volumes.
This amazing productivity is not sufficient to ensure profitability. The book is printed only in black and areas are left free for the client to execute the initials and illuminations. The Gutenberg Bible can not compete with the manuscripts. Fust is upset.
In 1921 a bookseller decides to disassemble a copy that was already incomplete for selling it per individual sheet. However, he has the good sense of keeping together those surviving folios that constitute a complete chapter of the Bible.
Thus, the Book of Esther is composed of eight consecutive sheets from the Volume I. This set of good freshness had been deprived of two initials cut off at an unidentified date and now replaced by fac simile in front and back. It belonged since 1922 to the Jewish Theological Seminary which decided to sell it, preferring to encourage their researchers to the study of Hebrew texts.
The Book of Esther from the Bible of Gutenberg and Fust is estimated $ 500K for sale by Sotheby's in New York on June 19, lot 1.
1460 The First Spin-Off of the Printed Book
2017 SOLD for € 820K before fees
The first delocalized spin-off consists of two Bibles, both based on the 42-line Latin Bible and produced between 1458 and 1460 but not dated in the printing. Their oldest rubrication dates define a terminus ante quem at 1460 for the first of the two volumes of the 49-line Bible and at 1461 for the other volume and for the 36-line Bible. Rubrication is the addition of red color by hand to highlight important parts of the text and paragraph changes.
The origin of the 36-line Bible is not documented. It is known as the Bamberg Bible because most of the copies of which an early provenance is known had an owner near that city where Gutenberg had tried in vain to recreate his workshop. The 49-line Bible was printed in Strasbourg by Johannes Mentelin, previously established as a calligrapher.
These three Bibles have other characteristics in common. They were printed in two columns per page with similar papers and inks. The Mentelin Bible was made with an elegant and ephemeral pseudo-gothic typography. Thanks to its higher number of lines per page, this in folio Bible 41 x 30 cm is the most compact.
On October 17 in Paris, Alde sells a complete copy of the first volume including Genesis and Psalms of the Bible of Mentelin, lot 76 estimated € 450K. Here is the link to the website of the auction house. It is covered in a 19th century binding commissioned by a scholar in the spectacular Augsburg style of the 15th century.
The 49-line Bible launched the successful business of Mentelin, more famous with the first printing of a Bible in German in 1466.
1470 Eternal Virgil
2013 SOLD 1.18 M£ including premium
In 1468 Venice hosts its first printer, Johann of Speyer, who had been a goldsmith in Mainz. Johann starts the task of publishing the masterpieces of Latin literature. The quality of his typography and layout is due to a clever imitation of the manuscripts.
In 1470, Johann died prematurely. His brother and collaborator Wendelin maintained until 1477 this excellent workshop now subject to the competition from Jenson. The tradition of the literary editions of Venice was launched. It will make the fame of Aldus.
On June 12 in London, Christie's sells the works of Virgil published in 1470 by Vindelinus de Spira. This book combining the Bucolica, Georgica and Aeneid along with comments (argumenta) is luxuriously printed on vellum and remarkably complete. It is estimated £ 500K. Here is the link to the catalog.
The Virgil of Wendelin is not the editio princeps but it is equally remarkable because it was built from a manuscript of a high literary fidelity.
POST SALE COMMENT
Very good price, £ 1.18 million including premium, for this incunabula produced by one of the best workshops of the time.
1470 Illuminated Printing
2010 SOLD for £ 940K including premium
The first printed book, in 1455, had been the Latin Bible, or more exactly the Vulgate of St. Jerome. Fust is the sponsor, Gutenberg the publisher and Schöffer (Schoeffer) the technician and probably the foreman. After the commercial failure of that operation Fust and Schoeffer remain associates in Mainz. After the death of Fust in 1466 Schoeffer becomes his successor and son-in-law.
After having been one of the most important Fathers of the Church, Jerome becomes indeed the subject of an intense investigation. By a research in ecclesiastical and monastical libraries, a Benedictine monk known as Adrianus Brielis increases to 200 items the corpus of epistles written by Jerome.
This outstanding work is classified thematically by Brielis and published by Schoeffer in 1470 in two successive editions, incorporating new discoveries and significant reworks in the second edition.
The first workshops of movable type printing in southern Germany are inseparable from the industry of the copyists but also of the illuminators. Once printed, the specimens were illuminated by hand in more or less extent to be marketed at various prices.
On July 7, 2010, Christie's sold as lot 10 for £ 940K including premium a deluxe copy printed in Mainz in 1470 by Schoeffer of the Letters (Epistolae) of St. Jerome (Hieronymus) gathered by Brielis. It is now estimated € 600K for sale in Paris Hôtel Drouot by OVA - Aristophil operated by Aguttes on June 16, lot 26.
It is a large-size book on vellum 48 x 33 cm. This extensively illuminated copy is in a remarkable original condition, still in its binding in two volumes made in period in Erfurt.
This copy from the first edition has been extensively amended in handwriting to add the modifications in preparation for the second edition, providing a fair view of the concurrent practice of editing and printing for that operation. For sure the expensive double printing including red ink for the rubrication did not invite for a scrap of the obsolete copies.
The discussion above is mostly based on my 2010 post.
1473 An English Merchant in the Burgundian Court
2014 SOLD 1.08 M£ including premium
The court of Philippe le Bon was the most luxurious in Europe. Perpetuating the traditions of chivalry, the Duke encouraged literature. One of his protégés, Raoul Lefèvre, successively wrote a story of Jason and a history of Troy.
Charles succeeds Philippe in 1467. His marriage in the following year with Margaret, sister of Edward IV, is an opportunity for Caxton. To please the new ducal couple, he immediately began to translate into English the Troy of Lefèvre. He finished this work in 1471.
Charles the Bold was like his father a great patron of the illuminators. Caxton had traveled throughout Europe and his confidence in printing is extraordinary in this context. The Histoire de Troie translated by Caxton becomes in 1473 or 1474 the first book printed in vernacular English.
A copy of this edition is estimated £ 600K, for sale by Sotheby's in London on July 15, lot 502.
This book was probably printed in Bruges in the entourage of Colard Mansion. Translator and probably editor, Caxton undoubtedly contributed actively to this achievement. After this successful experience, Caxton became the first English printer when he came back to London in 1476.
POST SALE COMMENT
This good copy of the first printed book published in the English language was sold for £ 1.08 million including premium.
First book printed in English □#OnThisDay in 2014 a copy of The Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye, first published around 1474, sold at @Sothebys for £1,082,500. The book was a translation by British print pioneer William Caxton of a French original. pic.twitter.com/e2l95HRNLf— GuinnessWorldRecords (@GWR) July 15, 2019
1476 The Old Story of the Animals
2016 SOLD for $ 940K including premium
All types of knowledge are now welcomed. In animal biology, the three books of Aristotle make the reference. Famous as a philosopher and as tutor of Alexander, Aristotle was also along with Euclid, Ptolemy and Hippocrates one of the best scientific compilers of antiquity. In three successive books, he provides the name and description of 500 terrestrial and marine animals and describes the mechanisms of reproduction and embryology.
Nicholas V commissioned to Theodorus Gaza a new Latin translation of the De animalibus grouping these three books of Aristotle. It is significant that Theodorus also translated the Botany by Theophrastus.
Twenty years later, Venice specializes in the printing of deluxe books with a superb typographical clarity developed by Jenson and the use of great papers that may compete with the illuminated manuscripts.
The princeps edition of the complete translation of the De animalibus by Theodorus is organized in Venice in 1476. The publisher is Ludovico Prodocator and the printers are Johannes de Colonia and Johannes Manthen de Gheretzem.
Two copies on vellum are known. One of them was acquired in 1784 by the French Royal Library, later Bibliothèque Nationale de France.
The other copy resurfaced a few months ago in Tennessee. A previous provenance was unambiguously re-established through its binding adorned with the coat of arms of a collector in the early nineteenth century. It is a great example of the extreme care applied to books in Venice just two decades after the invention of printing. The book is not illustrated but the initials are illuminated.
This only example on vellum in private hands is estimated $ 300K for sale by Bonhams in New York on June 8, lot 1.
The first Italian edition of the Natural History by Pliny was printed in the same year in Venice by Jenson. A copy was sold for € 195K before fees by Reiss on 1 November 2011.
1477 The Canterbury Tales printed by Caxton
1998 SOLD for £ 4.6M including premium by Christie's
narrated in 2020
He is a very important promoter of English literature, himself making numerous translations of secular texts. He understands the cultural incentive of the printing press during a visit to Cologne in 1471. He immediately transfers a printing press to Bruges. Translated from French by Caxton and printed in Flanders in 1473, the Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye is the very first incunabula in the English language. A copy was sold for £ 1.08M including premium by Sotheby's on July 15, 2014.
When Caxton returned to London in 1476, his new expertise was eagerly awaited. He instals a printing press in Westminster, the first of its kind in England.
His passion for English literature is heightened by this possibility of dissemination. He is a great admirer of Chaucer, which he publishes without resorting to sponsors. Chaucer's masterpiece, The Canterbury Tales, becomes in 1477 the first masterpiece of English printing. This achievement is all the more meritorious as Caxton later complained of the poor literary quality of the manuscript at his disposal.
About ten copies of this original edition have survived, plus three important fragments. The only complete copy, which had belonged to King George III, is in the British Library. The illuminated copy kept in Oxford has been completed.
On 8 July 1998 at lot 2, Christie's sold for £ 4.6M including premium the only copy in private hands, which is also one of the most complete with only 4 lacking leaves.
1477 Ptolemy's Cosmographia
2006 SOLD for £ 2.14M including premium by Sotheby's
narrated in 2020
This monumental work is ignored in the Christian world and rediscovered by astronomers in Baghdad at the beginning of the 9th century. Around 1300 CE the Byzantine scholar Planudes finds a Greek version of the Geography of Ptolemy, which then takes the name of Cosmographia, and reconstructs the maps. A Latin translation of the text in 1406 by Jacobus Angelus is used for the first printed editions.
The 26 maps based on Ptolemy's informations are engraved on copper plates prepared by Taddeo Crivelli. They are published with the text of Jacobus Angelus in Bologna in 1477. Each map occupies a double page 42 x 56 cm overall, which is the prestigious Royal folio format used in particular by Gutenberg in his Bible.
On October 10, 2006, Sotheby's sold a complete copy of the Bologna Cartographia with in period hand-coloring and binding for £ 2.14M including premium, lot 394. It most certainly belonged to the bibliophile Hieronymus Münzer, who started his collection of printed books in 1476 and was also a keen traveler. This undocumented provenance is made plausible by its later belonging to the humanist Pirckheimer from whom a letter containing a posthumous praise of Münzer is known.
The next step is the integration of the explorers' discoveries. From 1477 Nicolaus Germanus creates a terrestrial and a celestial globe. In 1482 the Ulm edition of Ptolemy's Cosmographia is the first modern atlas, integrating the maps of Nicolaus.
1482 The Torah of the Quattrocento
2014 SOLD 2.8 M€ including premium
The Mishneh Torah is not for ritual use. This is a repetition of the Torah. One of them handwritten in Italy around 1460 in a book format was discussed in this column one year ago. Beautifully illuminated, it was made at a time when printing in Hebrew characters was not yet developed.
This prestigious book whose other volume is kept by the Vatican Library was withdrawn just before the auction to be sold jointly to the Israel Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Jews quickly feel the need of the printed book to share their learning. It is not a coincidence that their earliest printed book is not a Torah but a comment by Rashi. It was edited in Reggio di Calabria in 1475.
The most important Jewish book printed at that time is also not ritual. Made in Bologna in 1482, it was the first one to gather the five books of the Pentateuch, on 438 pages. The center of the page displays the sacred text which is surrounded by Rashi's comments. This book also includes some Hebrew words illuminated in gold on a dark blue background.
A copy on vellum is estimated € 1M for sale by Christie's in Paris on April 30. Here is the link to the Bloomberg story releasing this information.
POST SALE COMMENT
There was no doubt that this book is exceptional. It was sold for € 2.8M including premium.