Biblia Sacra, Recto

[Biblia Sacra] [Mainz: Gutenberg, 1450-1455.] Recto.

The Four Most Beautiful Bibles and the Most Beautiful Dante; including the Most Beautiful Book Ever Printed?



Biblia Sacra, Verso

[Biblia Sacra] [Mainz: Gutenberg, 1450-1455.] Verso.

The Gutenberg Bible

The first book ever printed, and still one of the most beautiful. Alas, the Library has only one leaf from the Bible.

Shown here are the recto and verso of a page from the 28th, 29th, and 30th chapters of Ezekiel.


Jenson Bible

[Biblia Sacra.] [Venice: Nicolaus Jenson, 1476.]

The Jenson Bible

Printed only some twenty years after the Gutenberg Bible, the Jenson Bible introduced into European printing a sturdy but elegant sense of typographical design that has been influential for centuries. According to D.B. Updike, "There were other printers in Italy whose types rivalled his, but no other man produced quite so fine a font, or had better taste in the composition of a page and its imposition upon paper."

Shown: The first page of Genesis.


The Doves Bible

The English Bible, Containing the Old Testament & the New. London: The Doves Press, 1903-1905.

The Doves Bible

The Kelmscott Press (see Most Unforgettable), the Doves Press, and the Ashendene Press (see below) are generally taken to be the great progenitors of the revival of fine printing at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. The greatest of the Doves Press works was this Bible. Ransom remarks about the Doves Press books that "When it is said that they approach dangerously near to absolute perfection in composition, presswork, and page placement, everything has been said....The great red initial 'I' that dominates and yet fits exactly the opening page of Genesis in the Doves Bible is a pattern for all time of complexity reduced to the minimum of simplicity." And "The Doves Bible and the Kelmscott Chaucer stand side by side upon the highest peak of typographical accomplishment, utterly dissimilar yet with the same element of greatness incontestible. Though popular belief holds the Gutenberg Bible to be the most beautiful book ever printed, these two monumental volumes prove once more that popular belief may be inaccurate."

For purity of conception and execution, one of the exhibit curators finds the Doves Bible the most beautiful book ever printed.

Shown: The first page of Genesis.


The Four Gospels of the Lord Jesus Christ

The Four Gospels of the Lord Jesus Christ according to the Authorized Version of King James I. With decorations by Eric Gill. Waltham Saint Lawrence [Berkshire, England]: The Golden Cockerel Press, 1931.

The Golden Cockerel Four Gospels

When printers talk about color, they usually refer to the consistency and quality of the black ink as it lies on the paper. The color balance between text and illustrations in The Four Gospels is superb. Gill’s wood-engravings illuminate without overwhelming the text, and the typesetting and machining are flawless: a Most Beautiful book.

Shown: the beginning of the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 2.


The Ashendene Dante

Dante Alighieri. Tutte le Opere di Dante Alighieri Fiorentino. Chelsea: Ashendene Press, 1909.

The Ashendene Dante

The third of the great triumvirate of fine press printing in the late 19th-early 20th-centuries, the Ashendene Press reached a peak in its folio works of Dante of 1909. Ransom again: "The Ashendene Press ranks with the Kelmscott and Doves at the zenith of superb bookmaking." And "To what purpose shall we say that Kelmscott or Doves or Ashendene was the most distinguished or important? Beside the magnificent Chaucer and the immaculate Bible may well stand the Dante of 1909."

Shown: the opening page of the Inferno.