BIBLE. German. Nuremberg: Anton Koberger.
17 February 1483.

by Dr. Edward C. Papenfuse, Maryland State Archivist

Recently I was asked to establish the authenticity and provenance of an old testament purported to have been printed in German, in Nuremberg, in 1483 by Anton Koberger. I subsequently learned that it was purchased and will be returned to its rightful owner.

Although I did not see the original I was supplied with eight good photographs of the binding, several details of illustrations, and of a double page.

With the generous help of Judy Gardner-Flint of Special Collections, the Johns Hopkins University, and Elizabeth Burin of the Walters Art Gallery, I located recent sales information and standard bibliographic references for the Koberger bible, and then compared the photographs to a copy owned by the Walters.

There is no question that the book is authentic. It is the first volume of a pair. It still has its original tooled leather binding, although the brass with which it was once decorated and its clasps are missing.

It is a lovely book. In what may be Henry Walter's hand, there is an inscription on this copy which captures the pleasure of anyone privileged to turn its pages:

Because it was published before 1500, the Koberger bible falls into the category of incunabula, which according to Elizabeth Burin means books published in the infancy of printing. The latin incunabula literally means swaddling clothes or cradle.

According to T.H. Darlow and H. F. Moule's 1911 catalogue of Holy Scripture in the Library of the British and Foreign Bible Society, London, 19ll,

Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), the Swedish scientist, inventor, and Protestant mystic notes in his diary of 25 July 1733 that he found a copy of Koberger's bible in the Jesuit Monastery at Prague. (See Darlow & Moule, 1911). Complete sets of the Koberger bible have been offered as recently as May 19, 1995 at Christie's in New York, and at Christie's in London on November 2, 1994. The catalogue for the May 19, 1995 sale describes the volumes as follows:

This copy of the old testament has a library stamp which indicates it was formerly in the Imperial Studion Bibliotek in Salzburg, Austria. According to Judy Gardner Flint that library today is part of the Universitšt Bibliothek, Salzburg (5020 Salzburg, Residenz Platz, 662-80440).

Without recent sales information (obtainable from Christie's) it is difficult to estimate the value of this volume, but it may be worth anywhere from $20,000 to £20,000.


©Dr. Edward C. Papenfuse
State Archivist
Phone: (o) 410-260-6403; (h) 410-467-6137

Internet Address: edpapen@hotmail.com


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