The Alexander Turnbull Library has paid about $200,000 for one of a Gutenberg Bible’s leaves. The Library has a mandate to collect rare books, so, that acquisition was the first fragment that would be in national ownership.
The Alexander Turnbull Library’s chief librarian Chris Szekely confirmed that staff were approached about the leaf by Melbourne-based vendor Douglas Stewart Fine Books in May and worked to acquire it from its Crown assets fund.
The bibles were first printed in Latin in the 1450s by Johannes Gutenberg in Mainz, Germany. The leaf is the second to be acquired by New Zealand. A single leaf is also held by the Alfred and Isabel Reed Collection in Dunedin Public Libraries while both leaves are from the same original copy of the Gutenberg.
“Who knows what would’ve happened if automated printing hadn’t happened?” Szekely said. “Mass literacy in Western cultures would’ve been hugely delayed. It was an iconic milestone moment in technology, which meant the masses had access to [literature],” Szekely said.
After the library investigated the fragment’s provenance and weighed up whether it would want it in its national collection, it proceeded with the purchase in late June.
Its journey to Aotearoa was complex and delayed by Melbourne’s lockdown, and then New Zealand’s. Upon arrival, it was transferred by a specialist art courier to a secure location where staff viewed it. Now it sits in the library’s Molesworth St site, which it shares with the National Library.