Of the millions of books that have been published, few are as renowned or as coveted today by collectors as the famous Bible printed in the 15th century by Johannes Gutenberg. In The Lost Gutenberg: The Astounding Story of One Book's Five-Hundred-Year Odyssey
(TarcherPerigee, 2019), Margaret Leslie Davis
traces the journey of one copy of this book – known as Number 45 – over the course of two centuries as it changed hands through a succession of owners. As Davis explains, at the start of the 19th-century Gutenberg Bibles were not as highly prized by the growing market of rare book collectors, which allowed Archibald Acheson, the third earl of Gosford, to acquire Number 45 for a relatively small sum in 1836. By the time it was sold nearly a half-century later, however, its status had skyrocketed and with it the price it commanded. After a succession of British owners, Davis describes the book’s acquisition in 1950 by the American heiress Estelle Doheny, which brought Number 45 across the Atlantic Ocean and into the hands of the only woman known to own a copy. Though the book was donated to a Catholic seminary upon her death along with the rest of her collection, its sale in 1987 to a Japanese publisher led to a second transoceanic journey that brought it to Japan. There Number 45 became the first Gutenberg accessible to millions as its pages were subsequently photographed and the images posted on the Internet for anyone online to see.