Johannes Gutenberg (1398-1468)

Johannes Gutenberg

1395 or 1399 seems to be the year when Johannes Gensfleische zum Gutenberg was born, in a German place called Mainz (on Rhine’ shore), within a noble family. He was a German blacksmith, goldsmith, printer, and publisher who introduced printing to Europe. His invention of mechanical movable type printing started the Printing Revolution and is widely regarded as the most important event of the modern period. His father was part of Monetary Workers Association. Few things are known about the first years of his life.

1419 After his father’s death, he left his native town and in 1424 he was at Strasbourg.

In Strasbourg Gutenberg lived 20 years, travelling very rarely to his native place, even refusing amnesty for the left ones in 1430. That is why he was forced to face justice roughs, losing his rent that had been given by Mainz town (probably because he did not want to obey authorities), rent that was offered to his mother after that. His situation was solved in 1434, when notary from Mainz, Nicolaus, crossed Gutenberg’s adoptive city.

At Strasbourg, Johannes Gutenberg paired with three young bourgeois in order to exploit one of his secrets.

1436 The inventor got financial help from the three people. When one of them died, Gutenberg had many problems because the heir wanted all the tools, the machines of the invention. Gutenberg strongly sustained his rights so that things finished in his favour.

What was the secret Gutenberg fought so much for? Documents are not so detailed. Was it about stones grinding, about mirror manufacturing or about a winepress with pieces of lead that are cut or rendered? Or maybe it was about all three? Historians noticed on these conditions the first trials to build the mould.

One of Gutenberg’s biographers, French poet Lamartine, reported that the discovery that changed the word’s share was due to a sexton from Haarlem. During one of his journeys, Gutenberg met Coster, this was sexton’s name, who had invented a way of printing called woodcut, but he did not succeed to go over, to mobile letters.

Others believe that the sexton had advanced a lot and Gutenberg stole the secret being helped by Coster’s daughter who was in love with him. We cannot base on these stories especially because there is not any proof of Gutenberg’s travel to Haarlem

1444 It seems that this year Gutenberg left Strasbourg, where he had a lot of debts, probably going back to Mainz.

1445 One year later, he asked for a loan to Johannes Fust, maybe implementing his invention: the print. Fust gave him money several times that is why he was again to the Court and this time he lost. Fust paired with Peter Schoffer, a smelter that had worked with Gutenberg, and together they printed many works. The inventor had been removed.

Helped by an important citizen of Mainz, Conard Hummer (or Hummerev), Gutenberg had the possibility to open a new workshop of printings that existed until 1465.

1445 The first printing that was kept is a fragment of “Doomsday”, part of a work named “Book of Sibyls”, very searched at that time. It is a small sheet, printed on both sides, hackled, but which has a priceless value for mankind’s culture: it marked the beginning of a new era regarding communication, for written word and information share. Many researchers focused on this sheet and the imperfection of the printing made them believe it was one of the first trials regarding the new invention.

The second printed work was Aelius Donataus’ Latin grammar, a secular work that was very searched at that time. Not all researchers agree that it was Gutenberg’s printing because it was of a lower quality. The third printing, Astronomical Calendar for 1448, also raised questions being set later, in 1457-1458. The first works of reliable date are two indulgent-letters in 1454-1455. For that in 1455 the printer used improved font that he would print his most known work, the Bible, with 42 lines (called often Mazzarina).

The quality of this printing is perfect according to Gutenberg’s genius confess. It is not dated or signed, but researches precisely established the year of appearance. It is supposed that 200 copies of the book were printed, 35 on parchment and 164 on paper, but less than 50 were kept.

1462 Gutenberg’s workshop was affected. Competition with Schoffer’s workshop and remaining alone after Fust had left to Paris (where he also died) were not good conditions for the inventor.

1465 His only financial consolation was the pension given by bishop of Mainz as recognition of his merits regarding mould inventing.

1468 Gutenberg could not enjoy too much the pension because that year, on February, he died because of a disease. His relic and the house he had lived in disappeared. But his invention had a quickly success and his name was written with golden letters in history and today it is talked about “Gutenberg’s Galaxy” like a supreme tribute to the illustrious inventor of print.

Half a century after mould’s invention, it also arrived to Romanian territories. In famous workshops in the West, masters from Transylvania are mentioned, like at Venice: Toma from Sibiu, Andrei the Raven from Codlea. Some researchers say that even Macarie, whose name is connected to the beginning of the new printings, would have learned the cunning at Venice. Maybe printing press was also brought from lagoons city.


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