Another Look at Gutenberg

A second look at Gutenberg

Stephen Eskilson’s “Graphic Design: A New History” gives us limited information on the individual Johannes Gutenberg. The text does mention that the German publisher of the famous Gutenberg Bible was a business minded goldsmith from Mainz. It does also inform us that Gutenberg’s printing press was a modified winepress, that Gutenberg combined elements that others had already invented to create a singular printing machine and that the new technology culminated in an explosion of book printing at significantly reduced speeds. What we don’t learn from Eskilson is who Johannes Gutenberg was, what stroked his curiosity, and even more importantly, how local vernacular contributed to his invention.

Gavin Moodie, in a paper titled Gutenberg’s Effects On Universities raises important points on the role of language in the developing technology. He notes that Latin had been the language of instruction, and retained scholastic prominence half a century after the invention of the printing press. “Latin persisted partly because many languages were rarely learned by foreigners, such as Dutch and even German” (Moodie). That implies that someone interested in any academic exploration had to first become a linguistics student. Not only did such a situation enhance class divisions among peoples, it also curtailed progress in many respects. Disseminators of religious doctrines, for instance, had to translate text from Latin to local vernaculars or their audiences wouldn’t understand.

Bible reading was not part of everyday practice, neither for the clergy nor for the laity. Gutenberg’s incentive to print the Bible must have had its origin in a personal experience outside of his Mainz community.



What Ever Happened to Gutenberg?


Whatever happened to Gutenberg? We all know that the story begins with the Gutenberg bible. As history has it, Gutenberg was not the inventor of printing, movable type, or even the ink that he used to create the printing. He was very much known for being the first to collectively use all this equipment, with the proper techniques, to successfully create his own version of the bible. He credited it to himself, calling it the Gutenberg bible. The bible was famous for its columns that consisted of 42 lines, in which each page was hand decorated with illustrations. The entire process took him 2 years to produce such a book.

Gutenberg was not only known for his bible, but also for his financial problems which led to a lawsuit by his landlord, Fust. It was said that his son-in-law, Peter Schoeffer, helped Fust testify against Gutenberg in court. Unfortunately, Gutenberg lost the lawsuit, which led to the seizing of his studio including all of his equipment, property, and books. Gutenberg had another book that he had completed in addition to the bible, the Psalter. This book of psalms was given to Fust as part of the settlement.

 So the question is: “What happened to Gutenberg?” After such a great loss, it was said that Gutenberg was able to set up shop once again at another studio, in which he continued printing. However, in 1462, Archbishop Adolph II took control of the city of Mainz, Germany. With the change of leadership in Mainz,many people who were in the printing business, or even just a typographer, were a forced to flee the city to other parts of Germany and Europe. As a result, Gutenberg and even Fust’s printing businesses were destroyed.

 After such a tragedy, Gutenberg was once again lost his business. In 1465, he was given the title of a gentleman of the court by the Archbishop, which supplied him with a salary that he used to continue his publishing as a hobby. To this day, there is no evidence of his printing afterward because his name cannot be found on any published works of that time. Three years later, in February of 1468, it is said that Gutenberg died. He lived his final month blind and it is rumored that he was buried in a church of the Franciscan convent near the town of Eltville, Germany.



“Johannes Gutenberg Biography.” Ed. Editors. A&E Networks Television, 15 Oct. 15. Web. 29 Sept. 2016.

Printed Books Existed Long Before Gutenberg’s Bible

Johannes Gutenberg is often credited as the inventor of the printing press. Many people think of him in that regard to this day. The reality is that Gutenberg didn’t exactly invent anything. His contributions to printing technology; namely his advancements in moveable, mechanized type, were indeed revolutionary, but the history of printing, and the printing press, begin about 600 years before Gutenberg’s time in Asia.

The true origins of printing begin with what historians refer to as woodblocks, a system in which printers would carve an image or letters into flat pieces of wood, ink the images, and then press them against cloth and paper to transfer. The earliest known woodblock printed book originated in China. Diamond Sutra (pictured below) was printed in 868 and is currently kept at the British Library in London. Woodblock printing was also utilized in Japan and Korea as early as the 8th century. The use of metal blocks was also not uncommon.


The onset of the 11th century marked a very important improvement to this method of printing; moveable type. Moveable type was developed by a Chinese man named Bi Sheng. Shen Kuo, a scholar who documented the work of Sheng mentions that his method of printing was actually fairly efficient in that day and age, and could print thousands of copies. The issue here, and why Sheng is not as prominently recognized as Gutenberg is for his advancements in moveable type, is that his method of printing didn’t become popular for centuries after his development.

One of the most notable examples of Chinese moveable type can be seen in a work printed in the 14th century by Wang Chen. His book on agriculture, “Nung Shu,” was originally printed in 1313 using the woodblock method, but was later reproduced using moveable type. Historians suggest that moveable metal type was independently discovered in Korea during the same century. In 1377, Baegun, a buddhist monk, printed a compilation of buddhist ideologies using moveable metal type. “Jikji” (Pictured below) is recognized as the oldest book in the world that was printed using metal type.


Whether or not Gutenberg was aware of Wang’s and Baegun’s advancements in moveable type is not exactly known, and up for debate. What is clear, is why the technology was so much more widespread in European countries as opposed to the Asian ones where it was first developed. The number of characters in Asian Languages is far greater, and the characters themselves are more ornate and detailed. With western languages, you’d need to cast only a few dozen pieces and you’d have the entire alphabet.

The reason that Gutenberg is “the man” (pictured below) when it comes to the origins of printing, is because he developed the press that mechanized the whole process. The first printing press, with its assembly line style printing process, allowed for far greater efficiency than simply pressing by hand as his Asian predecessors had done.



Palermo, Elizabeth. “Who Invented the Printing Press?” Live Science. N.p., 25 Feb. 2014. Web. 28 Sept. 2016.

China What do they have to do with type

Johannes Gutenberg is always considered the guy when it comes to the Movable type. What I fine really interesting is the fact that the Chinese first invented movable type. Let us answer a simple question for clarification first, what is movable type. It is when each individual character, ligature, punctuation, and numbers are on a piece of material. They can be infinitely rearranged and changed to form infinite possibilities. They usually look like this.

China during the Song Dynasty were under much pressure to increase their understanding of technology. This Dynasty houses some of the most important inventions we have seen, a few examples would be movable type, the compass, and gunpowder. As with many things today most westerners even some easterners see the world through a westerner’s lens. If we look closely at China we see that movable type was first invented around 1040 C.E. for printing on paper. Usually made with porcelain. It was during the Song Dynasty in China innovated by a man named Bi Sheng. Bi Sheng was a commoner therefore nothing is known of the man, except for the fact that he conceived a way to make type and print them. He made clay models of each character and multiples of common simple characters so he could print them on the same page. He would bake the clay in order to harden the type for use. Bi Sheng did not have a press yet what he did was prepare a plate full of a resin and set his type on that. Once the page was ready he would heat the plate and the type would stick to the plate. After the end of the Song Dynasty into the Yuan Dynasty an official named Wang Zhen Innovated Bi Sheng’s type. He decided to make it out of wood. This was done around the 13th Century.  He not only changed the material which was previously thought unsuitable for type but speed the process up. He used a big round table that housed all the characters. It looked a little like this.

We think that the English language was labor intensive to make a type face, and the movable type, and to print it. We only have 26 letters to make, The Chinese character system has over 50,000 characters, now they of course more common characters than others so it can be narrowed down but that still is much more laborious than other languages. If you have trouble thinking about it think of the 50,000 characters something like words rather than letters. Each character can represent a word so that explains the plain magnitude of how many characters they have to make. After Wang Zhen made these innovations two centuries later a man named Hua Sui decided to use bronze for typesets rather than wood or ceramics. At this point in time Gutenberg has created the movable type printing press. Gutenberg did not event movable type but instead had grab other people’s inventions and innovated them into something that would be huge. Korea also made great strides in print technology before Gutenberg as well. In the 13th centaury The first book printed by metal type was created. It was called Jikji, it was a Korean Buddhist text. I hope you enjoyed my little history lesson of the origins of movable type.


What happened to Johann Fust?

All we know about Fust is that he gave Gutenberg money to borrow for his printing business. Gutenberg couldn’t pay Fust back therefore defaulting in giving him his printing press, printing materials and anything dealing with what made Gutenberg famous. Where does Fust go from there? Well, he gets a new partner who I’m guessing can pay the bills. This gentleman was named Peter Schoffer. They printed apiece called Mainz Psalter in 1457 with wooden cut illustrations and metal type. A different collaboration than having everything printed from either all metal or all wood type and illustrations. After that short description in chapter one about what happened after Fust took everything Gutenberg, we don’t hear anything else from him or what he did next. So sit back and leave the Fust digging to me.

Johann Fust was a German printer from a wealthy family extending as far back as the 13th century. His printing or his name wasn’t as well known until he got involved as a banker for Gutenberg’s printing business. After the lawsuit against Gutenberg, Fust then continued his “newly” stolen printing business with his partner named Peter Schoeffer. They crossed paths in a twisted rumor where Schoeffer was assisting Gutenberg during the time he was borrowing money from Fust for his printing business. Schoeffer basically got a front row seat on ‘how to use a printing press for dummies’. He then stood with Fust when the lawsuit against Gutenberg came out. Can we stop for a minute and recognize the amount of shade that both Gutenberg’s former business partner and assistant threw. What was the point of all of this? The answer is greed and basically to be famous for “supposedly” creating the printing press. Moving forward, Gutenberg was non-existent after that and was never to be heard from again. Fust and Schoeffer on the other hand flew with the business by making identical pieces just as Gutenberg would have printed them as well as setting the books at a price. Fust used his business salesman skills to sweep the nation with selling the “42-Line Bible”


on both paper and vellum copies. Paper was sold for 40 guiders while vellum was sold for 75 guiders a piece. I’m not entirely sure what “guiders” are but I’m guessing it’s the word they use for dollars.

The printing press sped up production, which was something the world wasn’t used too and that resulted in more rumors. Fust was accused of doing witchcraft. The reason behind this accusation was the red ink that was used on the printed pages was referred to blood. Another reason why he was accused, was the actual speed books were being printed. Fust served some jail time for black magic but then released when the accounts against him were wrong. Apparently the devil is the only reason behind the speedy printing process when in reality it was some non-experienced guy with one job, which was to press the typeset to the paper.

In the year 1466, Fust died. Although, he died his business was run by his son-in-law, which happened to be Peter Schoeffer who married his only daughter Christina. They had children who invested their lives in the business. Their way of printing stayed within their family but also with their sworn in employees. Yes, sworn in like how the president swears he will be a good person and protect America, basically on the same level as that. Well, some people in the business weren’t good people and allowed the secret to flow from their lips. The secret of the printing press was released to the world which developed multiple different printing businesses and different ways of printing with metal type. Even though their secret wasn’t theirs originally maybe that was the reason why it happened. Karma came back to bite them, I mean what else do you expect?

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