In the summer of 2011, the kids and I took an educational vacation to Austin, Texas. There are so many amazing things to do there. The highlights of our trip were spending an entire day at the LBJ Library and visiting the Gutenberg Bible at the University of Texas’s Harry Ransom Center.
A year before the trip, my little guy did a school paper about Gutenberg’s Bible, and I asked my Facebook friends if they were aware of any Bibles near me. My friend Marty mentioned that he believed one to be housed at UT. Sure enough, a quick web search netted results.
You can order a CD-ROM edition of the Ransom Center’s Gutenberg Bible that permits viewing of small details such as the paper-maker’s hair embedded in the fibers of a page.
Do you know how very fortunate we are to be near one? There are only 48 copies remaining in the world and a copy rarely changes hands. Furthermore, the book comes in two huge volumes, Old Testament and New Testament. Only 21 collections actually have a complete set that is in good condition. Many fragments have survived and that seems to be ONLY because they were used as part of the binding of later books (!!!!).
Where can you find a Gutenberg Bible? Locations of the Gutenberg Bible in the world:
The thing I anticipated most about our trip was our visit to view the Bible. This is in part because I’m a Christian, but primarily, it was because of the book itself. I truly love old books. In a way, they’re alive to me, and when I hold one in my hands and leaf through it, I’m thinking about the lives who have touched it, the time in which they lived, and what their lives must have been like. There are few wonders like the wonder of an old book.
Also, as a writer and lover of language and the written word, the experience of viewing the book that was the beginning of all printing was…indescribable.
Some quick facts about the Gutenberg Bible:
The Gutenberg Bible is so valuable that the pages are turned with specific calculation to minimize touching the pages. To see a Bible out of its case, and pages turned was described by a Yale University visitor as “a Halley’s comet moment.”
The UT Gutenberg Bible is protected by alarms not only on the case itself, but behind the case. We didn’t realize this and the kids moved behind the case so that I could take their photo with the book. Three library staff came running to see what was going on.
How valuable is a Gutenberg Bible? From How Stuff Works:
How much is a Gutenberg Bible worth? A perfect copy hasn’t changed hands in years, but in 2007, a single leaf went on sale for $74,000. In 1978, Christie’s auctioned off a perfect two-volume Bible for $2.2 million. Another Christie’s auction in 1987 transferred an incomplete version to a Japanese company for $4.9 million [source: Clausen Books]. As long ago as 1897, a perfect vellum Bible sold for $20,000 [source: NY Times].
Viewing this Bible is truly, for most people, a once in a lifetime experience because of the rarity. There are only eight copies in the United States. The significance of this, and the privilege, was not lost on me.
When we entered the Harry Ransom Center that day, my hands were shaking. It’s impossible for me to describe the awe I felt when we walked around the corner of the enclosure and I saw it for the first time. I tried to make this real to my children, and though they may not have understood exactly what I was feeling, I’m pretty sure it’s an experience they’ll never forget. It’s just not often that I display the kind of emotion that I displayed that day.
The kids wandered off to see some of the other fabulous exhibits in the very small museum. After about 15 minutes, my daughter returned to the Bible area. She immediately saw that I was crying and asked me why. I held up the museum brochure in my hand and touched her hand and said:
Everything I’ve ever read…every book I’ve ever held in my hands…it all began here, with this book. Every book I have ever read – and the books I’ve read have made me the person that I am – began here, with this book.
She smiled, put here arm around me, kissed me on the cheek, and we walked away to look at the other exhibits.
View another man’s experience and learn good information about the Gutenberg Bible. His reaction was similar to mine (minus the tears).
Some good sources for gifts and for learning more about the Gutenberg Bible:
Liam first developed an interest in the Gutenberg Bible when he read a book about it from his school library for a class project.
Inspire your kids with some of these resources: