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.

 

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”

page7b

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?

Sources found here:
https://www.britannica.com/biography/Johann-Fust
http://www.historygraphicdesign.com/a-graphic-renaissance/printing-comes-to-europe/622-johann-fust

 

Another Look at Gutenberg

Another 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.

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, Gutenberg was the son of a patrician and “exiled from Mainz in the course of a bitter struggle between the guilds of that city and the patricians, Gutenberg moved to Strassburg (now Strasbourg, France) probably between 1428 and 1430.” It was in France that he experimented with printing, and it was there he became aware of divergent ideologies propagated by different priests.

Catholics had a doctrine of penance, where church folks would confess their sins to a priest, who in turn would specify cash amounts required to purchase pardon. Gutenberg came across church reformers, some of whom agitated for a common scriptural text in hopes of unifying the Christian faith. A printed Bible would not only accomplish that objective, but to the entrepreneurial Gutenberg, it held a promise of an international business initiative.

Gutenberg worked on his printing press secretly in Strassburg, only returning to Mainz to borrow money from relatives. On a number of occasions, he defaulted on repayment and was repeatedly charged in court. It’s during court trials that his secret project became public, thereby eliciting the curiosity of other investors. A loan advanced by Johann Fust provided his final breakthrough, for with it he produced close to two hundred high quality Bibles. But that loan was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Defaulting on its payment, Gutenberg was forced to surrender his printing press and half of the printed Bibles to Fust.

gutenberg

Creator: vermeld op object prentmaker: Houbraken, Jacob vermeld op object drukker: Vaillant, Isaac Title: Portretten van J. Gutenberg, J. Fust, L.J. Coster, A. Manutius en J. Froben Titelpagina voor: M. Maittaire. Annales typographici, 1719 Work Type: prent Date: 1719 – 1719 Repository: Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam Accession Number: RP-P-1910-4225 COLLECT.389125 Subject: Gutenberg, Johannes Fust, Johann Coster, Laurens Jansz. Manutius, Aldus Froben, Johann Collection: Rijksmuseum © Artsor.org

Creator: vermeld op object prentmaker: Houbraken, Jacob
vermeld op object drukker: Vaillant, Isaac
Title: Portretten van J. Gutenberg, J. Fust, L.J. Coster, A. Manutius en J. Froben
Titelpagina voor: M. Maittaire. Annales typographici, 1719
Work Type: prent
Date: 1719 – 1719
Repository: Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
Accession: Number: RP-P-1910-4225
COLLECT.389125
Subject: Gutenberg, Johannes
Fust, Johann
Coster, Laurens Jansz.
Manutius, Aldus
Froben, Johann
Collection: Rijksmuseum
© Artsor.org

References

“Johannes Gutenberg.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 25 Sept. 2016.

McQuade, Molly. “Dear Gutenberg.” Booklist 104.18 (2008): 69. Education Source. Web. 25 Sept. 2016.

Moodie, Gavin1. “Gutenberg’S Effects On Universities.” History Of Education 43.4 (2014): 450-467. Education Source. Web. 25 Sept. 2016.

Salade, Robert F. “The Story Of Gutenberg’s “42-Line” Bible.” America 31.1 (1924): 7-9. Humanities International Complete. Web. 25 Sept. 2016.

 

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Typography & The Gutenberg Bible

The history of graphic design begins with typography.  In our first sessions, we will trace the evolution of typeset from the fifteenth century to the Victorian Age.  We will examine the shift from orality to print and highlight the origins and development of the movable type system and what is perhaps the most iconic work in the age of the printed word, The Gutenberg Bible.

To prepare for these first sessions and the description of Johannes Gutenberg’s work and the activities related to the letterpress and its printers, students are expected to watch the following video, the BBC production The Machine that Made Us, starring Stephen Fry.

References

McGrady, Patrick, Stephen Fry, and Jeremy Irving. 2008. The machine that made us. New York: Filmakers Library.