If I said I loved books, would it surprise you? I also love history, and the two parts combine beautifully in Gutenberg’s invention of his printing press. Imagine my delight when I stumbled upon a video called “The Machine That Made Us.” The program follows the host, Stephen Fry, on his journey to discover the man, Johann Gutenberg, and his Das Werk der Bücher “the work of the books”.
Research reveals the Chinese printed with woodblocks in the second century A.D. In 1377, metal movable type was used in Korea to produce the “Jikji,” a collection of Zen Buddhist teachings. Gutenberg’s Bible was not even the first printed book in Europe. Other printers were using carved wooden blocks in their presses. While it was labor-intensive, it was still faster than the monk’s handwritten replicas. The ingenuity of Gutenberg’s press was individual metal characters. He devised a method of making cheap duplicates of letter punches from an alloy of lead, tin, and antimony.
Experts estimate Gutenberg’s print run created between 160 and 185 copies. Roughly three-quarters were printed on paper, and the rest were on vellum. They think the entire process took between three and five years. Rubrication — the headings before each book of the Bible — were blank, leaving room for special scribes to add to the manuscript along with any illuminated decorations. The bibles were pre-sold, at a base cost for printing only. The extent of additional handwork depended on the buyer’s willingness to pay more. I guess some needed to allow for the expense of having spectacles produced so they could read their new book.
What is your favorite piece of book history?
Keep on writing.
Jo Hawk The Writer