I wanted my heroine, in 1880 Montana Territory to be impoverished by her worthless husband, who spends all her money, dies and leaves her alone in the merciless west. But I wanted her to still have some unknown valuable thing.
I came up with an old, old family Bible. Her worthless husband somehow knew it was valuable and he mortgaged it. A nice, cruel moment of betrayal for poor Cassie.
Well, turns out that Bible, which the Banker forecloses on but kindly agreeds to work hard to find it’s true value, sends the book back east only to find out it’s a Gutenberg Bible worth………………………
(insert cricket chirp here)
That’s right. I can’t find out worth WHAT????
I can find out all about it being printed! I know Mr. Gutenberg’s life story! I can find out what it’s worth NOW! I can find out how many copies exist NOW! I even found out where each and every one of those Gutenberg Bibles are and what condition they’re in NOW!
But I know antiquities always had value. I know it because…Louis L’Amour told me in To The Far Blue Mountains. Barnabas Sackett, found old stuff in England, Roman statuettes and coins and the like, and sold them and paid for his trip to America.
So I’m minding my own business, Googling everything I can think of about antique books, historical prices, Gutenberg, and man oh man it just got so interesting.
My conscience speaking “Mary, stop being such a baby. Stop reading and go write your book for heaven’s sake.”
So I’ll tell you a little bit about my research and why it caught my interest so deeply.
Someone told me once that, although electricity was added of course, the Gutenberg Press was essentially unchanged from 1454 until the invention of the computer. The little iron letters, lined up by hand and inked and rolled over paper. How cool is that?
There were only 180 Gutenberg Bibles made but that press was so revolutionary it changed the whole world. Until Gutenberg ALL PRINTING had been done by hand. There was no other way. Can you imagine it? No wonder no one could read. Why bother? There weren’t any books.
1492 – Columbus discovers America
This is important (well, no, it’s probably NOT important to my book, but it’s interesting) because it helps us to realize just how long America was discovered before a permanent settlement survived in North America. There were settlements in Hispanola and Cuba and San Salvador and other places. And of course the settlements we talk about are in North America by the first recorded Europeans (don’t get me started on the Vikings coming earlier, another long rabbit trail—bottom line? Vikings didn’t write stuff down—Columbus did) Think about this, too. The Europeans tried and tried and tried. They’d leave people behind at a settlement and come back in a year and nuthin’! ALL GONE.
It’s said (Again, maybe by Louis L’Amour…no, I’m sure I’ve heard it other places-I don’t get ALL my history from Louis!) that there WERE Europeans in the New World before Jamestown. Their settlements didn’t survive but some of the people did. They moved inland, some lived among the Indians, some lived on their own. But they were essentially lost forever.
Here’s where it starts to get pretty fascinating. Do you ever think about what a wild-eyed radical Martin Luther must have been? And he wasn’t alone. Yes, he wrote these Ninety-Five Theses but he had friends. These guys were truly, truly, deeply radical. They were taking on the whole world with their writings. It truly did start out as a reformation. They wanted to REFORM the church not break from it. But that was a hugely dangerous proposition. If you want to find out just how powerful the church was, check out this next one……………
1524 – William Tyndale burned at the stake for translating the Bible from Latin to German
Death penalty. For translating the Bible into a language that could be understood by more than a tiny handful of monks. They had some serious clout there!
The king had it done. Henry XIII. Far more well known for his wastrel lifestyle and multiple marriages. I suppose fundamentally Henry did it to be a trouble maker. Or maybe not. I could keep hunting for motives!!!
“The Pope won’t let me get a divorce, well guess what? I’m starting my own church.”
Okay, Mary is putting her own spin on history with that one!!!
I suspect Henry’s motives were far less pure and honestly less radical than Luther’s. He just wanted his own way. More of an arrested adolescent than a radical
1560 – First recorded use of the word Puritan
But it’d been going on since even before Martin Luther’s 95 Theses. This was a caldron boiling for a long, long time.
1565 – St. Augustine, Florida, first surviving European settlement in New World
I included this just because it made me aware of the old saying, “The winners write the history books.”
Do you ever really realize that Spain had the first permanent settlement in North America? We think Jamestown. Maybe Plymouth Rock. But they came later. But in school they teach English-centric history. And, oh yeah, there’s a really old town in Florida, too.
1620 – Pilgrims-a part of the Puritan movement-land in Plymouth Rock. This is the second successful New World Colony. Jamestown was founded in 1607. St. Augustine, Florida??? Fuggedabouddit
I’m going to stop now. But I’m telling you there is no fact in this article that you couldn’t look up and read for an hour. Man oh man that Columbus guy was a jerk. Also a flippin’ genius, driven, in his own way a complete radical and one heck of a sailor. He figured out Trade Winds. Which, I’ve heard the word before but I didn’t know much about it. I could write a blog about that.
The King James Bible, another whole really interesting trail to follow.
Jamestown…they tried eighteen times before the next ship came back and found people. Go read about The Lost Colony of Roanoke. The word ‘Ill-Fated’ is used waaaaaaaaaaay too much.
Columbus had four trips to the New World. He died thinking he’d landed in Asia. He got to Central America and South America. I didn’t know that. I thought he was stuck on the islands. And I thought it was three trips.
His body was moved six times after his death. Was it because he was wanted or unwanted???
Martin Luther – I’m writing a whole post on something called The Diet of Worms. The title here is just a teaser, mainly because I thought it was so weird sounding…hint-it’s got nothing to do with eating or worms. Very interesting.
You think Martin Luther was a radical? I’m going to tell you about Patrick Henry sometime. He made Thomas Jefferson look as calm as a 92 year old nursing home resident on triple strength Haldol (a drug nicknamed Chemical Labotomy–and I could write about THAT, too!)
Oops, wait. I said I was going to stop.
Does any of this surprise you?
So, what of all this didn’t you know? What do you want to add? What did I get wrong?
And, most importantly, does ANYONE know what a Gutenberg Bible would be worth in 1880? And could such a book, already ancient in 1880, be in private hands? My heroine’s great-grandmother was a Spanish princess so there might be some room for the woman to have owned something unusually precious.
Or is there some other old thing you can think of that would be valuable?
How about if Martin Luther had scribbled NOTES on the Gutenberg Bible???
What do you think Louis L’Amour would make of all this?
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