Pet Book Report #3 – Dragon Prayer Book and the Gutenberg Bible
Although the Dragon Prayer Book is not a print book, it was created after 1461, during the age of print. Because the prayer book includes words written in German, we know that it was created in Germany; in the same country, and around the same time, as Johannes Gutenberg began printing the Gutenberg Bible.
This week, we looked at the Gutenberg Bible as an example of a printed book created during the age of manuscript production. I was surprised to see that Gutenberg used the same abbreviations as medieval scribes did, and as our scribe(s) did in the Dragon Prayer Book. It is clear that Gutenberg wanted his finished book to look just as beautiful as the manuscripts created by the scribes at the time. At first glance, the Gutenberg Bible looks shockingly similar to the Dragon Prayer Book with its rubrication and neatly formed letters. But Gutenberg did not only mimic manuscripts with his choice of font and use of abbreviations. While watching the Stephen Fry film, Stephen Fry and the Gutenberg Press, I noticed a decoration similar to that on page 0031 of the Dragon Prayer Book. Both decorations have been painted in blue ink, and are positioned to the left of the text. The tail of each decoration has been pulled down to create a figure-eight (or several figure-eights in this copy of the Gutenberg Bible). Although both decorations look almost “T” shaped, I do not think that the decoration in the Dragon Prayer Book is part of the text on that page. In the Gutenberg Bible, the decoration is illuminated, whereas, like the rest of the prayer book, the decoration in the Dragon Prayer Book is not.
In the film, Fry explains how Gutenberg wanted to use vellum for his book’s pages, but could not because of the sheer number of calves it would take to produce enough vellum for all of the copies he wanted to print. Instead, Gutenberg used cloth paper, a material which would have been near blasphemous to use for a handwritten prayer book.
There are 290 folios of vellum (581 pages) in the Dragon Prayer Book. If the prayer book was the size of Gutenberg’s Bible, it would have been incredibly expensive, and near outrageous, to create. While the Dragon Prayer Book’s small size may be attributed to its purpose as a portable and personal book, it is also likely that our tiny manuscript is as small as it is because creating a book out of large pieces of vellum was so costly. Like the Dragon Prayer Book, most of the remaining Gutenberg Bibles have been rebound, though a few do still have their 15th century bindings.
Although the Gutenberg Bible and the Dragon Prayer Book were created on different materials and with different tools, there are many unexpected similarities between the two books, and both have survived for over five hundred years.