It seems that the young Mainz patrician had fallen on hard times. Rather than organising wholesale trade, he had to earn his living by making things to sell.
In 1439 Gutenberg was involved in a legal
dispute with the brother of a deceased member of a group of men
who had worked with him on three projects. The first project was
concerned with a new technique for polishing gemstones. The second
aimed at making mirrors for pilgrims to a regularly occurring religious
event in Aachen. The mirrors would catch some of the power of relics
on show during the pilgrimage, which could be stored up for later
use. Unfortunately for Gutenberg and his team, the pilgrimage was
abolished in that year, in order to limit the spread of an infectious
disease. This may have caused Gutenberg and his partners some financial
problems if they had to pay back loans before they could sell their
The last project Gutenberg wanted to keep
secret. He went to extreme lengths to do so and, tantalisingly,
it remains a secret to this day. Several of the words used to describe
it were later used to refer to parts of the printing process. However,
before printing was common they could perhaps equally be used to
describe other processes which involved stamping or impressing something
onto or into something else.
Whatever Gutenberg was involved in, it is clear that he was trying to find new ways of making money, using the most up-to-date techniques. He had around him a group of men who worked on inventions.
The last record of Gutenberg's presence in Strasbourg is from 1444, but we do not know for certain that he was back in Mainz until 1448 when records show that he borrowed 150 Rhenish guilder.