BAR 34:03, May/June 2008
Small but Significant
Measuring only 5 inches tall by 3 inches wide, this 1485 Book of Hours was designed to fit neatly in the palm of a woman’s hand. And as the only known copy of the first Book of Hours printed in France (published less than 50 years after Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type), it fetched the tidy sum of $471,304 when the Morgan Library and Museum in New York City bought it at a Sotheby’s auction in London last November.
The Book of Hours was considered a “medieval best-seller” and had a 250-year reign of popularity in Europe from about 1275 to 1525.g These small prayer books were produced for lay people to serve as simplified versions of clerical breviaries, which contained the many prayers, hymns, psalms and readings of the Divine Office (a complicated series of prayers recited by clergy on a daily basis).