The Mazarin Bible

Fortnightly Review

The "big gun" of the Ashburnham printed books was the splendid copy, printed upon vellum, of the first edition of the Latin Bible, and the first book executed with metal types, 1450—55. It is generally known by the name of the Mazarin Bible, from the discovery of a copy in the cardinal's library by the bibliographer De Bure; its importance is too well known to be enlarged upon here, although a very little known fact in connection with it may be mentioned.

Trithernius says in his Chronicle that he was told by Peter Schoeffer, the partner and son-in-law of Fust, that the expenses incurred in the printing were so enormous, that four thousand florins were expended before twelve sheets had been printed. Only about four copies on vellum and less than twenty on paper have been recorded. The Ashburnham copy was formerly in the University Library of Mentz, whence it was obtained early in the present century by Nicol. the king's bookseller; at his sale in 1825 it was purchased by Henry Perkins, the book-collecting brewer, for four hundred and eighty guineas; at the Perkins sale in 1873 it was bought for the late earl for £3,400; and at the earl's sale it advanced to £4,000. All the copies sold in recent years have been on paper. In 1884 Sir John Thorold's sold for £3,900; three years later Lord Crawford's brought £2,460; and the Hopetoun, the first leaf of which was injured, brought £2,000.

Apart from the intense interest which must always surround this book, it may be doubted whether, with all the advantages of modern appliances to the art of typography, it has ever been excelled—"magnificent" is the only word that can be properly applied to it. It is adorned with one hundred and twenty-three finely painted and illuminated miniature initials, historiated and ornamental, many with highly finished marginal decorations of ornaments, birds, beasts, flowers, fruits, monkeys, and grotesques, in the best style of Renaissance art. As an instance of its value rather more than a century ago, it may be mentioned that the Grenville copy in the British Museum cost Count MacCarthy 1,200 francs at Gaignat's sale in 1768; at MacCarthy's sale in 1815 it realized 6,260 francs.

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November 21, 1901

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