Copyright 2008 John Clements.
The Gutenberg Bible.
Books are not universally popular even though their enormous contribution to thought and information is unquestioned there still remains a few stalwarts who do not possess a single book and do not want to, they like to gather their information by means other than reading big thick books. Admirable as this is it generally means word of mouth. Word of mouth usually takes into account a single generation and is notoriously inaccurate.
The video is one step up from word of mouth. A little bit better but even videos are not ideal because you need modern digital equipment to access them. Of course I myself have a vested interest in old technology and traditional methods like books and evidence gained from reading books. Reading those book style International results are a joy to me. I can read them time after time and still get something from them. I also like to have a written reference so I can go back and fourth and rediscover. I have over the years read Barcelona and International results ten or more times. My habit is to pick out individual pigeons that have scored in previous years. I also find some that have scored in other International races the same or other years. To me this is a source of enormous satisfaction. The fact that I know bare facts of what is going on at the top level in the pigeon sport is a comfort to me. The fact that I oft times know more than the auctioneers who are selling the pigeons, also gives me a kind of smug satisfaction. It is only information from reading that can give this sort of feeing. It is only reading; books and the like, that can create a kind of interest that obliges you to go one step further and read more. This does not happen with word of mouth or with the video, it only happens with books. For this reason printing and the history of printing has always been an interest. It is for this and other reasons that I watched Stephen Fry's TV programme about the Gutenberg Bible of 1454 or 1455. (The Gutenberg was the first printed book made on moveable type in the West.)
What was the world like before the printed book? The University of Cambridge for instance possessed only 180 books in the entire university at that time. You could multiply that by possibly five million and still be short of the number of printed books presently in the University of Cambridge. Of the first book, the 42 line Gutenberg, there are only 48 copies still in existence and only 11 complete copies from the original total of 180 printed. Four of these copies are perfect, others have either fragments taken out or are in some way damaged. Some are printed on vellum but most are printed on paper. This 42 line version of Gutenberg is the earliest book. Another version printed 3 years later and with larger type is the very rare 36 line Gutenberg Bible. Only four good copies of the "36 line" are in existence one of which is in the Plantin Moretus Museum in Antwerp so the Antwerp copy is worth seeing for its rarity value alone. The last copy in private hands sold for more than 5 million dollars.
Those who regularly conduct pigeon tours to the National Breeding Centre or Lier Market might like a side trip to the Plantin Moretus museum and its copy of the 36 line Guttenberg bible. You find the museum in the Friday Market off Groen Platz not far from the Cathedral almost at the junction of the "Meir" where it joins "Nationaal Straat." This museum is a treasure house of early printing. Famous names such as the cartographer Mercator had maps printed there. It was Mercator who devised the "Mercator Projection" a system of mapping the globe. There are also some of Rubens original wood cuts together with other famous books. Breughel, Erasmus, Thomas More and Durer visited "The printing house of the Golden Compass". The Durer illustration of an early printing press shown on Fry's programme, was probably done in Antwerp while Durer was visiting. Matthaeus Lobelius had books printed by Plantin. Matthaeus Lobelius was the naturalist after whom the blue plant so common in hanging baskets is named.
Without Gutenberg, and early printers we would not now have the BHW - The Racing Pigeon - Advertising - all that stuff that comes through the letter box - voting papers and possibly democracy as we know it. Without Gutenberg - street placards would not exist - Raffle tickets - Bingo Cards - The lottery and tax forms would also not be possible. Without Gutenberg the world would be an entirely different place. Perhaps he did us all a disservice and has a lot to answer for but it's nice to know how it all started with printing on paper in 1455. It is also rewarding to see copies of his work providing of course you have a liking for reading and for books. It was Gutenberg who started it all - The computer may finish it but you can't throw a computer at an inattentive schoolboy or read one in bed. There are eight copies of the 42 line Gutenberg Bible in the UK - they are at: The British Library (2) - the John Rylands Library Manchester - Eton College - Cambridge University - The Bodleian Library Oxford - Lambeth Palace Library and the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh. Only the United States (11) and Germany (12) have more copies than the UK. I have been unable to track down the whereabouts of all the four copies of the 36-line Gutenberg Bible but if you have an inclination to collect old copies of stud-books, Old copies of anything just to re-read them - you have something of the Gutenberg within you.