A wealthy Ukrainian politician has made public a manuscript in his private collection that he says is a fragment of the Gutenberg Bible, the world’s first substantial printed book, although researchers said it would need to be authenticated.
The Gutenberg Bible was produced using the moveable type printing press invented by Johannes Gutenberg in Germany in the 15th century. Only a few dozen volumes still exist and researchers struggle to collect information about scattered fragments.
Viktor Medvedchuk, a lawmaker with ties to Russia, listed the manuscript in a wealth declaration made mandatory for elected officials in an anti-corruption reform in 2016.
Last Friday, he put the single leaf, covered in two columns of dense, black type with red rubrics, on display for Reuters in Kyiv. He said he purchased it on advice of consultants in around 2011-2012, although he refused to say at what price.
“I bought it right away and honestly, I did not even bargain for the price,” said Medvedchuk, whose collection of old books contains around 8,000 volumes, including first editions of poets Alexander Pushkin and Taras Shevchenko.
At an auction in December 2016 at Sotheby’s in New York, a single leaf of a Gutenberg Bible sold for $47,500.
Medvedchuk said he did not know how the fragment arrived in Ukraine but that it comes from a bible acquired last century by American bookseller Gabriel Wells, who sold his copy piece by piece.
Valentyna Bochkovska, Director of the Museum of Book and Printing of Ukraine, found out about the fragment from media reports and said experts would need to determine whether it was authentic.
“Usually, experts do not trust when there is only one leaf. That is why … a special chemical-based analysis should be done,” Bochkovska said.
Stephan Fussel, the Gutenberg Chair at the University of Mainz, told Deutsche Welle that he hoped Medvedchuk would give international researchers more information so that they could determine which book this fragment belongs to.
“We are ready to provide (access),” Medvedchuk said.