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Friday, 15 May 2015

Johannes Gutenberg


Johann Gutenberg was born in the German city of Mainz around 1398, the youngest son of the upper-class merchant Friele Gensfleisch zur Laden, and his second wife, Else Wyrich,.

Johannes' father was among Mainz;s patricians. He was a tradesman or a merchant, possibly involved in the cloth trade. In 1386, Friele Gensfleisch married his second wife Else Wirich, daughter of a shopkeeper in Mainz.

Friele Gensfleisch zur Laden adopted the surname "zum Gutenberg" after the name of the neighborhood into which the family had moved.

By the 1430s, Gutenberg was engaged in such crafts as gem cutting, and he also taught the polishing and cutting of various stones to a number of pupils.

One of Gutenberg's schemes was to mass produce "pilgrim mirrors" to sell to the thousands of people walking to Aachen every seven years to see the town's holy relics (which included the night gown Mary had worn in the stable). The purpose of these mirrors, which many pilgrims pinned to their hats, was to catch the benign rays that were assumed to radiate from the relics and to take them home where they would benefit relatives as well. Gutenberg produced these mirrors in 1438 but the pilgrimage did not take place until 1440 so his invested capital did not reap profit for a long time.


In 1448 Gutenberg went into partnership with the wealthy money lender Johann Fust and Fust's son law, Peter Schoffer. It was during this period that he developed his revolutionary printing process.

Gutenberg was not the inventor of the printing press, Chinese movable type dates back to the 1040s but it was hitherto unknown to the west. The German pioneer had the idea of utilizing techniques of metalworking, such as casting, punch-cutting, and stamping, for the mass production of books. European books at this time were hand written by scribes in a gothic script with many flourishes and ligatures (interconnected letter pairs). To reproduce this "look" Gutenberg fashioned a font of over 300 characters, far larger than the fonts of today. To make this possible, he invented the variable-width mold, and perfected the blend of lead, antimony, and tin used by type foundries up to the last century.

The idea for Gutenberg's printing press may not have been his. A silversmith named Waldvogel taught "artificial writing" at Avignon as early as 1444, using steel alphabets and an iron-screw press. It appears, however, that Waldvogel was unable to overcome the obstacles which Gutenberg shrewdly mastered at great personal cost. This included developing an oil-based ink.

Gutenberg printed the first item with his new press in 1454 which was of all things a Turkish calendar.

The Gutenberg Bible was the first major book printed in Europe using mass-produced movable type. The traditional date for its publication was February 23, 1455.

A copy of the Vulgate Bible, 42 lines were printed on each of the 1,242 pages in a gothic typeface which was as near as Gutenberg could get to the handwriting of the day. It was printed on paper made from cloth, rags and vellum.

Gutenberg Bible of the New York Public Library. By NYC Wanderer (Kevin Eng) - originally posted to Flickr as Gutenberg Bible, CC BY-SA 2.0, Commons Wikipedia

Gutenberg demonstrated at the 1455 Frankfurt Book Fair, the power of the printing press by selling copies of his two-volume Bible for 300 florins each. This was the equivalent of approximately three years' wages for an average workman. However, it was significantly cheaper than a handwritten Bible, which could take a single monk 20 years to transcribe. The Bible seems to have sold out immediately, with initial sales to owners as far away as England.

Having set up his printing business with two loans of about 800 Guilders each from Johann Fust, with his workshop as collateral, Gutenberg found he was having trouble repaying the money. So in 1455 Fust obtained the workshop, moveable type characters and all the Bible's profits, an estimated 2026 guilders in lieu of payment from Gutenberg, leaving the printing pioneer bankrupt.

In 1459 Johannes Gutenberg published The Catholican, in which he compared the printing of this book to a miracle. "Thanks to the help of the Almighty, who causes infants to speak and often reveals to humble persons what he hides from the wise, this noble work of The Catholican was printed and produced without the aid of any seal, stylus or pen, but by a marvellous combination and harmony of punches and characters."

In January 1465 the Archbishop of Mainz pensioned Gutenberg, giving him social security. He received annually a court outfit as well as 2,180 liters of grain and 2,000 liters of wine tax-free. Gutenberg's financial status in his last years has been debated but was probably not destitute.


Gutenberg continued to run a print shop until just before his death in Mainz on February 3, 1468. He was buried in the Franciscan church at Mainz, his contributions largely unknown. As the church and its yard were later destroyed, Gutenberg’s grave was also lost.
Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg made after his death.

The Gutenberg Bible had aroused the mistrust of the clergy who initially found it hard to accept that the Holy Scriptures could be treated "mechanically". However by the 1480s, printing was well established throughout Europe.

In 1504, Gutenberg was mentioned as the inventor of typography in a book by Professor Ivo Wittig

By enabling the Bible to be mass-produced, and for the writings of the early Lutherans and other reformers to reach a wide public within weeks, Gutenberg helped to create the right climate for the Reformation whereby anyone could have access to the Word of God.

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