Innovations of Technology : Johannes Gutenberg and Printing Technique with Moveable Letter Types

A.) Books in the West prior to Gutenberg

For centuries, books such as the BIBLE, the writings of ARISTOTELES, of AVERROES etc., have been held in high esteem. Monks in monasteries spent much of their time and effort in handcopying bibles and other books. During the middle ages, the technique of paper production was introduced, which Europeans had acquired from the Levant, and book printing was developed, as the WINE PRESS easily could be applied for printing as well.
However, before Gutenberg, entire pages were cut in a matrix. Such matrices required a lot of work and could be used for just one purpose - printing that specific page of that specific book. If a mistake was made, the entire page had to be remade again.

B.) Gutenberg's Invention

JOHANN GUTENBERG (ca. 1400 - 1468), a native of Mainz, had learned the craft of a goldsmith. In the 1430es he experimented with printing and developed the printing technique with a moveable type. Now, pages could be composed and re-comnposed by using a limited set of types (letters). Gutenberg even had invented the occupation of a type-setter. The GUTENBERG-BIBLE, the first book printed in this technique in the west, was published ca. 1455.

C.) Credit to the Koreans

In Korea, Buddhist monasteries have applied a technique of printing books by using moveable types centuries before Gutenberg. The technique, however, did not spread beyond the greater Chinese sphere, and Gutenberg's invention was made independent of Asian printing technique.

D.) Gutenberg's Legacy

Gutenberg reinvented printing; printing now was a competitive trade. Gutenberg's apprentices migrated into other cities opening printer's shops, teaching the next generation of apprentices. Soon, every major city in Europe had it's printing shop.
In Italy, a printer came up with the idea to replace the scrolled, ornamented letters by place-saving slim letters - the ITALICS. Using these letter sets, paper could be saved, and the POCKETBOOK was invented. Italy became the leading country in bookprinting technique. Books were printed in various sizes, from QUARTO (4to) over OCTAVO (8vo) to 12mo, 16mo etc., standards still used by librarians.

Homepage of the Gutenberg Museum at Mainz, Germany (English version)
Encyclopedic biographies from Graphion's On-Line Type Museum, Typographic Visionaries, and from Oregon State Library, the Gutenberg Bible, a facsimile edition
< font size = "3" face = "Times Roman" color = "#000000"> REFERENCE A sample page from Gutenberg's 42 line bible, from graphion, 390 KB
More sample pages from Oregon State Library, the Gutenberg Bible, a facsimile edition

This page is part of World History at KMLA
Last revised on May 30th 2001