“To be sold by order of the owner”

"Gutenberg Bible to be sold here," reads the headline to The New York Times for February 4, 1926, "Rare Volumes Are Expected to Bring $75,000." 

On February 6, 1926, a copy of the Gutenberg Bible was opened to public exhibition at the Anderson Galleries on Park Avenue and 59th Street in New York City.  The sale—“by order of the owner, Edward Goldston, London, England”—was to take place on Monday evening, February 15. The gallery had published an auction catalog, The Gutenberg Bible: The First Printed Book: The Melk Copy, written by the renowned bibliographer and scholar of early Mainz printing, Seymour de Ricci.

The gallery’s President, Mitchell Kennerley, noted in a preface that the sale marked the third occasion in fifteen years that Anderson Galleries had sold a copy of the Gutenberg Bible.  “It is to be feared that the opportunity may not again come before us of securing a worthy and permanent resting place for a book with such unrivalled spiritual, historical and artistic associations.”

De Ricci’s catalog entry introduces the book as the Biblia Latina, published in Mainz by Johann Gutenberg and Johann Fust in 1455.  It is, De Ricci, states, “a fine, clean and perfect copy,” bound around 1700 in two volumes in calf.   The book showed the mark of its previous owner, the famous library of the Benedictine abbey of Melk, in Austria: an early owner had written “Monasterii Mellicensis” on the first page, which had also been stamped, “Stift Melk,” in black ink.  Of added interest, the first pages of the copy were printed with 40 lines of type, followed by a page of 41 lines, and then the forty-two lines of “B42” or the “forty-two line Bible”: this meant that the copy was one of the early copies printed by Gutenberg, when he was still thinking through the mechanics of how to print the Bible. 

The previous years had seen enormous interest in the Gutenberg Bible, in the few copies that had come to sale.  An article in The New York Times listed recent sale prices: $43,350 in 1923, paid by the Philadelphia bookseller and collector, Abraham Simon Wolf Rosenbach, at auction in London; $50,000 for a copy printed on parchment, bought by the industrial magnate and collector, Henry Huntington, in April, 1911, at the sale of the Hoe collection at Anderson Galleries.  An article of February 15, 1926, notes that a fund was mooted to try to buy the Bible for the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, still under construction on Amsterdam Avenue. As De Ricci noted, “No bibliographical treasure has been more ardently coveted in the past than the Gutenberg Bible.”