Biblia latina (Eggestein)

[Strassburg: Heinrich Eggestein, c. 1469–70, not after 8 March 1470]

The compositorial marks within the Cambridge Gutenberg Bible provide rare insights into printing house practice in the fifteenth century, but also tell us much about the early history of this particular copy. Using a master copy of the text being printed, the ‘exemplar’, teams of compositors would select letters and spaces from a type case, building up words, then lines, then pages of type. The Cambridge Gutenberg Bible was so used as an exemplar by the Strassburg printer Heinrich Eggestein, and it allows us to see this compositorial process in action.

Placing the two books alongside each other, the Gutenberg on the left and the Eggestein on the right, clearly demonstrates Eggestein’s compositors marking the text as they go. On the leaf bearing the opening of St Luke’s Gospel in the Gutenberg Bible a manuscript ‘#’ is visible in the margin, at the foot of the left-hand column on the left-hand page. This highlights the place reached by Eggestein’s compositors at the end of setting one page: a ‘/’ before the word ‘orat[i]one’ marks the precise point at which one page ended and the next began. On the facing leaf of the Gutenberg Bible, the ‘#’ can again be found at the foot of the left-hand column, with a ‘/’ before ‘et nom[in]e’.

These marks match exactly the openings of the corresponding pages of the Eggestein Bible: the left-hand page begins ‘oratione’, the right begins ‘et nom[in]e’.

Inc.1.A.2.3[84], vol. 2, fol. [F5] recto

In 1933, without fanfare, an eighty-one-year-old London barrister and Cambridge graduate, Arthur William Young, made a spectacular book gift to Cambridge University Library, comprising eighteen medieval manuscripts, twenty-eight incunables, and several hundred later printed books of great significance and value. It is recognized as the most important benefaction made to the University Library since the arrival of the Royal Library in 1715.

Young’s collecting interests were focused on the Bible. The Gutenberg (-Fust) Bible of 1455, the first large-scale project of Gutenberg’s invention of typographic printing, was obviously the high spot of his collection. This copy had appeared on the London market in the winter of 1889 when the seventh Earl of Hopetoun, about to sail to Australia to take up the governorship of Victoria, put up at Sotheby’s the antiquarian library formed by his eighteenth-century ancestor the first Earl. In the early eighteenth century the significance of the Gutenberg Bible was not fully appreciated, and the binding identifies this copy simply as an ‘editio antiqua’. Only when Tom Hodge of Sotheby’s was packing up the books for shipment to London did he discover the greatest treasure in the collection. At auction the copy was bought by Bernard Quaritch, who sold it a few months later to Young.

The interest of Cambridge’s Gutenberg Bible was magnified some fifty years after Young’s gift, when it was noticed that this copy had been carefully marked up and used as setting copy for a Latin Bible printed in Strasbourg by Heinrich Eggestein, completed in late 1469 or early 1470. On every page of the Gutenberg Bible are small marginal hash-marks, pointing to small vertical strokes within the text, corresponding exactly, with a few indicative errors, to the page endings of Eggestein’s edition. Moreover, various books contain manuscript marginal variant readings which Eggestein’s compositors introduced into their settings. In other words, the text of Eggestein’s Bible drew partially on a second, manuscript source. Presumably this manuscript was also the source of variant readings in other books that were also brought into Eggestein’s text, perhaps at a correction stage. The hundreds of changes did not systematically improve on the Gutenberg Bible’s text,
but they are the earliest example of editorial work on that text, and Eggestein apparently took pride in this. A printed broadside advertisement for his edition survives, in which he boasted that the edition had been collated by men ‘deep-dyed in humane letters’.

Essay by Paul Needham

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