PRINCETON, N.J. (AP) -- Copies of the first four printed editions of the Bible have come under the ownership of a single collector for the first time in more than 150 years.
The collector, 88-year-old William Hurd Scheide, completed his collection of the four rare books last year after buying the Mentelin Bible, printed by Johann Mentelin in 1460 in Strasbourg, for seven figures.
Though word of the acquisition has been trickling through the antiquarian book world since the purchase, the deal became widely known after a May 31 public presentation of the Bibles at Princeton University during the school's Reunion Weekend.
The Mentelin Bible joins a Gutenberg, the first major Western book printed from movable type, in 1455 in Mainz; a copy of what is known as the 36-Line Bible, printed in Bamberg in 1461, possibly by Albrecht Pfister; and "The 1462 Bible," also printed in Mainz, by Johann Fust and Peter Schoeffer.
Because the Bibles were printed in roughly the same period in Germany, they constitute a distinct group for scholars.
"It's phenomenal," Peter E. Hanff, deputy director of the Bancroft Library at the University of California at Berkeley, told The New York Times. "To bring together those four monumental records of Western culture in a single place, and in the New World, is of international significance."
Scheide keeps the Bibles at the school's Scheide Library, named after his family. All the books in the library are available for study by scholars.
Scheide was asked how much he paid for the Bible. "I won't tell you!" he shouted, the paper said Monday. The Scheide librarian, Paul Needham, said the price was "in the seven figures."
Scheide is a third generation collector, and his father, John, started the Bible collection.
Copies of the four Bibles have not been exhibited together for more than a century.
Another collection of the four Bibles is in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris. Two other collections are in the state library in Stuttgart and in the Austrian National Library in Vienna.
Only two other individuals, King George III of England and the second Earl Spencer, great-great-great-grandfather of Princess Diana, have ever owned copies of all four of the Bibles.
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