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Gutenberg Bible Sold for Record $5.39 Million

October 23, 1987 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ A Gutenberg Bible was sold at auction Thursday for $5.39 million, more than double the previous record for a printed book, Christie’s auction house said.

The Bible, printed in 1455 in Mainz, Germany, is one of 48 surviving of the 185 believed to have been printed at least in part by Johann Gutenberg. The Bibles, the first books printed by movable type, heralded the age of mass communication.

The buyer, in spirited bidding, was Maruzen Co. Ltd. of Tokyo, Japan’s biggest bookseller, said Christie’s spokeswoman Lily Zimmermann. The previous record was $2.2 million for a Gutenberg sold by Christie’s in 1978, she said.


The Bible was the most prominent piece in an auction of more than 130 printed books from the 15th century collected by the late Estelle Doheny, widow of California oilman Edward Doheny. The sales total was $13.6 million, said Roberta Maneker, another Christie’s spokeswoman.

It was the first of seven sales of books in the Doheny collection, which is being auctioned to benefit the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Mrs. Doheny willed her collection to the archdiocese in 1958.

Christie’s called the sale the most important of its type since 1912.

The Doheny Gutenberg Bible is ″in pristine condition, its pages clean and fresh, and in its original Mainz binding,″ Christie’s said in a release. The Bible, Volume I of a two-volume set, contains the Old Testament books from Genesis through Psalms. Volume II is not believed to have survived.

The volume’s history is traced to the collection of Archibald Acheson III, the Earl of Gosford, whose library was sold as a lot in 1884 for 500 British pounds to James Toovey. The Bible was purchased by Lord Amherst of Hackney, then by C.W. Dyson Perrins, and later was bought at auction by Sir Philip Frere in 1947 for 22,000 pounds.

Frere sold the Bible to Mrs. Doheny in 1950 for $70,093.

Mrs. Doheny joined the Roman Catholic Church in the 1920s and donated her wealth over the years to church seminaries, hospitals and other charities. In recognition of her philanthropy, Pope Pius XII gave her the title of countess in 1939.

The archdiocese is selling the Doheny books to fund a foundation intended to increase its enrollment of seminarians, Ms. Zimmermann said.