Little Bits of History

August 24

Posted in History by patriciahysell on August 24, 2017

1456: The earliest date we have for a Gutenberg Bible is today. Also called the 42-line Bible, the Mazarin Bible, or B42, this was the first major book printed in Europe using the mass-produced moveable metal type. Printing goes back to very early times, if we include the duplication of images by means of stamps. These woodblock images were used in the Far East and were in use in the first century AD. Movable type was in use in China around 1040. They switched from woodblocks to porcelain but that was changed to clay, probably because of cost. Neither became popular. Chinese characters are numerous and creating all the pieces was prohibitive. By 1377, this was mastered and was described by French scholar Henri-Jean Martin. It was very similar to Johannes Gutenberg’s system.

Gutenberg was not just a printer. He was also a blacksmith and goldsmith which gave him access to methods and tools. Around 1439, through a series of investment catastrophes, Gutenberg found himself with debt and no way to repay it. He claimed he had a “secret” to share and there has been speculation it was the idea of movable type printing. Between 1450 and 1455, Gutenberg printed several texts many of which are unknown to us today. We may surmise they were done by Gutenberg by comparing fonts but there is no imprint or date given for these earliest works.

By the time Gutenberg got around to printing a Bible, he had as many as 100,000 letters available to create the pages. Setting up a page could take up to half a day. Then the press would require loading and inking, no small feat in itself as well as individually pulling the impressions and setting up the sheets to dry. There is speculation that Gutenberg and his partner, Johann Fust, had up to 25 craftsmen working to create the massive Bible. While we don’t have an accurate way to know how many of these Bibles were printed (numbers range from 158 to 180 copies), there are 49 copies (or substantial portions of copies) remaining in existence today. They are considered to be one of the most valuable books in the world even though no complete copies have been sold since 1978.

France is in ownership of four of the Bibles and the earliest date inscribed on any of them is this date. It is for the first volume of the Bible with the second volume dated August 15, 1456. This was the date the rubricator and binder finished his process and completed the work. Germany, home of the printing press and Gutenberg, has the most extant copies of the Bible at thirteen. The US owns eleven and the UK has eight. Vatican City, Russia, and Spain have two each with the remaining copies singly dispersed around the planet. There are also 36-line versions of the Bible printed and it is not known if these are a second run for Gutenberg or the work of another printer. Today’s Gutenberg Bibles are almost all owned by universities or other scholarly institutions. Few remain with religious institutions.

We can put television in its proper light by supposing that Gutenberg’s great invention had been directed at printing only comic books. – Robert M. Hutchins

I owe all my knowledge to the German inventor, Johannes Gutenberg! – Mehmet Murat Ildan

The solution was eventually found by Johannes Gutenberg, who made the breakthrough that finally established printing as the communication technology of the future. Similar ideas may have been under development around the same time in Prague and Haarlem. But in business, the key question is not about who else is in the race, it’s about who gets there first. Johannes Gutenberg was the first to make the new technology work, ensuring his place in any history of the human race. – Alister E. McGrath

Gutenberg made everybody a reader. Xerox makes everybody a publisher. – Marshall McLuhan




Posted in History by patriciahysell on August 14, 2010

Gutenberg's printing press

August 14, 1457: The first exactly dated book is printed with Gutenberg’s new movable type press. The oldest dated block-printed text in existence comes from 868 and is seven strips pasted into a 16.4 ft long scroll and is a sacred Buddhist text called the Diamond Sutra.

When Johannes Gutenberg was a teen, his family had to flee Mainz when the townsfolk rebelled against the upper classes. They fled to a nearby town where Mrs. Gutenberg had an estate, inherited from her family. By 1450, after a few other ventures failed, he began to work with press, printing a German poem as his first run. In 1452, Gutenberg used paper, oil-based ink, and a wine press to print books using movable type. Paper was expensive. The ink had to stick to the metal side of the press, but not smear as it was impressed on the expensive paper, and there needed to be a literate audience to read the books. By 1500, more than 9 million books had been printed.

In 1799, lithography was introduced which allowed for illustrations to be printed with better clarity. In 1804, the first major change in the printing press was invented when the iron framed lever press was put into use. The year before, machine-made paper rather than hand-made paper was put into general use and in 1840, wood pulp was used to make that paper.

Today, there are tens of thousands of printing establishments worldwide, which does not take into consideration the number of desktop publishers. Literacy is considered a key component of education. Paper and ink are cheap. In the US alone, nearly 300,000 new titles are printed in a year. There were 450,000 books printed in English in 2004 with most of them coming from the US, the UK, Canada and Australia. Global Books In Print has a database with more than 14 million book, autdiobook, and video titles. It was designed for Barnes & Noble, Inc. and is used throughout the world. POD, print or publish on demand is another way to  get books into home libraries. Reading is fundamental.

“When you sell a man a book, you don’t sell him 12 ounces of paper and ink and glue – you sell him a whole new life.” – Christopher Morley

“When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.” – Desiderius Erasmus

“Books are the compasses and telescopes and sextants and charts which other men have prepared to help us navigate the dangerous seas of human life.” – unknown

“A home without books is a body without soul.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero

Also on this day, in in 1933, a series of forest fires rock Oregon’s great forests.

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