When your friends know how much you love books they’re always giving you recommendations. Not long ago an old buddy of mine forwarded me a review NPR did of a book he thought would be right up my alley. He must know me well because The Lost Gutenberg: The Astounding Story of One Book’s Five-Hundred-Year Odyssey by Margaret Leslie Davis did indeed sound like something I’d want to read. After only a short wait I was able to secure a Kindle edition through my public library’s Overdrive portal. Once it was in my possession I proceeded to burn through The Lost Gutenberg at a rapid pace, happily enjoying it as I did.
According to Margaret Leslie Davis, the author of The Lost Gutenberg there are just under 50 Gutenberg Bibles left in existence. Her book focuses on one of those, known as Number 45. Over the course of 500 years we follow Number 45’s parade of owners, including interestingly enough the heir of the famous Worcestershire sauce. (I was surprised to learn its ingredients for years had been a closely guarded secret.)
Of all these owners, Estelle Doheny takes center stage and rightfully so since her part in this long saga is by far the most fascinating. Doheny, a wealthy petroleum heiress, philanthropist and devout Catholic from Los Angeles attempted through an intermediary to buy Number 45 at auction but was unsuccessful. However, when opportunity afforded her another chance she once again bid on it and this time was successful. Upon her death Number 45 was willed to St. John’s Seminary, Camarillo, California where it was supposed to reside forever. However, the local Archdiocese exercised an ethically questionable loophole in the endowment and sold the cherished Bible to the highest bidder in hopes of raising funds needed for the recruitment and education of new priests. Sadly, in the end most the money went to remodel the Archbishop’s residence.
After enjoying The Lost Gutenberg I’d like to follow it up with Alix Christie’s 2014 debut novel Gutenberg’s Apprentice. For that matter, I’d like to follow it up with more books about books, especially old books. When I do, you’ll be sure to read about it on my bog.