2. The press

Impressions had long been made from stamps or wood blocks either by pressing them onto paper or cloth or by putting paper on top of them and then rubbing to get an impression. Oriental printing also depended on rubbing techniques.

One of Gutenberg's most radical ideas was to use a press for printing. Presses had been around for a long time, but for other purposes. It is often pointed out that Gutenberg came from a wine-producing area of Germany and that he must have been very familiar with the wine press.

The printing press was essential for making the whole process fast and so, ultimately, commercially viable. Also compared with rubbing it saved a lot of money, for one could use both sides of the paper. It would not have been possible to use a press if Gutenberg had not had a way of making his pieces of type exactly the same height.

We do not know how Gutenberg's press looked, but we do know that the press was improved in the 1470s, enabling printing to be even faster.

On the improvement to the printing press in the 1470s, see Lotte Hellinga, 'Press and Text in the First Decades of Printing' in Libri tipografi biblioteche: Ricerche storiche dedicate a Luigi Balsamo, Biblioteca di bibliografia italiana, 148 (Florence: Leo S. Olschki, 1997), pp.1-23.

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