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USM Library Features Unique Facsimile of Gutenberg Bible

Wed, 12/15/2021 - 11:09am | By: Van Arnold

Cover of the first Gutenberg facsimile ever printed in the United StatesEach month Special Collections in The University of Southern Mississippi’s McCain Library & Archives features a unique Item that may be viewed in person or online. For the December “Item of the Month” wonder meets history in a facsimile of the rare Gutenberg Bible.

The copy was the first Gutenberg facsimile ever printed in the United States, and only the second in the world. The reproduction is considered by authorities to be the most beautifully illuminated of the 47 copies known to exist. The facsimile held in Special Collections is number 218 of 1000 numbered sets.

“This copy of the Gutenberg Bible is among the first created in America, and that is certainly quite notable,” said Andrew Rhodes, Special Collections specialist at USM. “And since the Gutenberg Bible was among the first books created with movable type, you get a sense of how rare books were back in those days, and the amount of work that went into creating one.”

The bible’s origin dates to the 1450s in Mainz (present-day Germany) when a man named Johannes Gutenberg used the new technology of movable type to create copies of the Latin Vulgate Bible. Each bible was hand-illuminated with full-color images and intricate decorations. His work prompted what became known as the Gutenberg Revolution.

Of the estimated 180 original copies printed by Gutenberg, only 47 of the Bibles have survived. Experts estimate that an original printed Gutenberg Bible would likely sell for about $35 million at auction.

The McCain Library’s Special Collections department debuted the “Item of the Month” presentation in February 2007 as an online feature. Each month, a librarian selects an item (letter, book, photograph, etc.) which is researched, scanned or photographed, and then made accessible online. The books, manuscripts, ephemera, and realia featured as the Item of the Month can be found in the University Archives, Historical Manuscripts, de Grummond Children's Literature Collection, Mississippiana, and Rare Books which are all located in Special Collections found in McCain Library & Archives.

“We take turns selecting items of the month on a volunteer basis, so it really depends on what items the individual thinks would be interesting to highlight,” said Rhodes. “We have a great many interesting things, so there is plenty to choose from.”

The collections offer a variety of historical resources ranging from 15th Century illuminated manuscripts to Civil War letters, Civil Rights documents and current Mississippiana. Nearly 24,000 square feet are dedicated to Special Collections, comprised of four units: University Archives; Rare Books and Mississippiana; Historical Manuscripts; and the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection.

Rhodes points out that Special Collections currently has a fall display that includes dozens of items from the University’s collections. The display features items related to Halloween, Thanksgiving, USM football and the fall season in general. Three student-curated exhibits are also featured. Each year, Special Collections selects three students to curate exhibits using the library’s materials.

Although the Item of the Month is primarily an online exhibit, visitors to Special Collections may request to view any piece in person.

Special Collections is open to the general public Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. To learn more, visit: