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Who was Gutenberg?

In the mid-15th century Johann Gutenberg invented a way of mechanising the production of printing type, as distinct from individually engraved or cast letters. This was the beginning of the mass production of books. He was born about 1400, the son of a rich family in Mainz, in Germany. Still a young man, he left for political reasons and settled in Strasbourg. In an attempt to make money he set up a number of innovative schemes. He may have experimented with printing even then.

Mainz, from The Nuremberg Chronicle Nuremberg: Anton Koberger, 12 July 1493
Mainz, from The Nuremberg Chronicle. Nuremberg: Anton Koberger, 12 July 1493. Larger image.

What is the Gutenberg Bible?

By 1448 he was back in Mainz borrowing a large sum of money, perhaps to develop his invention. We know for certain about his printed Bible from a letter from 12 March 1455. On that day Enea Silvio Piccolomini, later Pope Pius II, reported that some time earlier, in Frankfurt, a marvellous man was promoting the Bible. Piccolomini had seen parts of it and it had such neat letters that one could read it without glasses. All copies had already been sold.

Why are they both important?

Later in 1455 Gutenberg and one of his financial backers fell out over the project and it seems that Gutenberg lost a law suit. No other book can be tied to his name, while his opponent went on printing. By 26 February 1468 Gutenberg was dead: one of his heirs makes a reference to his will.

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