Art, Blogging, Books, Learning, Writing

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

So you all have heard the popular saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. Here I am putting that to the test! I picked a picture I clicked and decided to see what I can write about it, and if I can make it to a thousand words. And I ended up selecting this one, because I was in that frame of mind after the previous post!!

A Picture

Lloyd Schermer's Gutenberg Meets Bell Labs Transistor at the NYPL: a picture is worth a thousand words..

A Thousand Words?

So this photo was taken at the New York Public Library during our trip there last summer (on my camera, no flash). Depicted in the picture is a sculpture titled Gutenberg Meets Bell Labs Transistor with the Gutenberg Bible. It is on display at the 3rd Floor Reading Room of the NYPL, and is certainly eye-catching and totally significant.

After the trip, I did some reading on this sculpture as well as the copy of the Bible itself. According to the NYPL, the first copy of the Gutenberg Bible came to the US in 1847 and was purchased by James Lenox for $2,500.

Lloyd Schermer’s Sculpture

As for the sculpture itself, described as an Antique Wood Type Sculpture of 72 x 84 inches, this is the work of Lloyd Schermer. I found the below detailed description of this work on Schermer’s website:

In 1450 Gutenberg invented Movable Metal Type – the Printing Press and ushered in letterpress printing. In 1947, Bell Labs invented the Transistor that ushered in the digital age that uses binary codes. The permanent unique binary code of eight, ones and zeros for each letter appears above and below the engraving “Gutenberg’s Bible.”

The artist of this and several other similar pieces, Lloyd Schermer, is indeed a man of many talents. He was in newspaper publishing, has been a CEO, and was chairman of the National Board of the Smithsonian Institution for three years (he remains on the board as an honorary trustee) among other things.

Interestingly, his foray into the world of art began only in 1993 at the age of 66. His history in publishing along with interest in art led him to create these antique wood type sculptures in an effort to preserve these wood types as well as to present them in a unique art-form! Inspiring, isn’t it?

You can find more information and look at more of Lloyd Schermer’s art sculptures on his website here.

The Gutenberg Bible

Next up is the Gutenberg Bible itself. Based on the information I got from the New York Public Library’s website along with other sources, here is what I found out.

  • The Gutenberg Bible is also called the 42-line Bible or the Mazarin Bible; and was among the first books to be printed using mass-produced movable metal type.
  • Its many names: The Gutenberg Bible from the man who printed it, Johannes Gutenberg. The 42-line Bible from the number of lines per page (see below for an interesting related fact). The Mazarin Bible because the first copy described by bibliographers was located in the Paris library of Cardinal Mazarin.
  • It is estimated that between 158 to some 180 copies of this edition were produced, including about 45 on vellum.
  • One interesting fact I found (via Wikipedia) is that after the first few sheets had been printed, the number of lines per page increased from 40 to 42. Which is why pages 1 through 9, as well as pages 256 to 265, presumably the first ones printed, have 40 lines each. And page 10 is the only one that has 41 lines, while the rest have 42 lines each!! This increase was achieved by reducing the space between lines.
  • Of the original copies, per the info at NYPL’s (as well as the British Library’s) website, only 48 copies currently exist, with eleven of them on vellum (elsewhere though I saw this number show up as 49 surviving copies). Of these, only 21 are complete copies, while others have many pages missing or are just fragments of the whole.
Returning to the copy on display at the NYPL

The Lenox copy on display, printed on paper, is the first Gutenberg Bible to come to the United States, in 1847. From NYPL’s website:

“Its arrival is the stuff of romantic national folklore. James Lenox’s European agent issued instructions for New York that the officers at the Customs House were to remove their hats on seeing it: the privilege of viewing a Gutenberg Bible is vouchsafed to few.”

This copy of the Gutenberg Bible at the NYPL is one of eleven copies in the United States; and is an incomplete paper version. The only complete copy on vellum in the United States is at the Library of Congress; and is one of four complete vellum copies surviving in the world. You can see the scanned images of the copy at the Library of Congress here.

A few other interesting facts about the Gutenberg Bible:
  • 1286: The number of pages the two-volume Gutenberg Bibles contain.
  • 30 florins: The price it sold for initially, roughly three years’ wages for an average clerk.
  • $2.2 million: The amount last paid for a complete copy of the Gutenberg Bible in 1978.
  • $5.4 million: The amount a lone volume sold for at a Christie’s auction to a Japanese buyer in 1987.
  • And $75,000: The amount paid for a single leaf containing The Ten Commandments.

And then the rest

Johannes Gutenberg

As for Johannes Gutenberg himself, he did not make any money from the sales of the Bible. He was sued by Fust, the man who lent him money to get started on printing. Fust won the suit as well as control for the type of the Bible. In addition, Gutenberg had to pay him a substantial amount. Per some sources I read, Gutenberg became financially destitute because of this. But some others point to a slightly better life for him.


Returning to the scene of the featured photograph, I have to say that the visit to the New York Public Library was definitely a highlight of our trip. Everything remains part of my cherished summer memories: the delightful Library Way leading to the library; the sweet Winnie-the-Pooh exhibit in the Children’s Library; of course, the rest of the library that I could keep going on about; and even adjacent Bryant Park where we enjoyed a wonderful and free concert in the park.

I know I will be visiting this library again. Until then, there are many others near me to keep me occupied!!


A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

And in case you are wondering, a picture is worth a thousand words, at least in this example!!!Note I had to include the h/t list as well:)

Would You Rather

Today’s WYR

Would you rather be locked in an amusement park or a library?

Duh, a library, of course – for me!!

And Now, the End of This Post

Dear reader, do you have any other interesting facts or memories of rare books or libraries? Do let me know.

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7 thoughts on “A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

  1. Interesting post! My mother is weirdly religous and keeps sending me Bibles to save me from the hellfire she claims I’m doomed for – sigh, I wish one of them was worth a few million… 😉

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