It was on this day in 1452 that the first section of the Gutenberg Bible was published in Mainz, Germany. It was the first book ever printed with movable type, Gutenberg’s revolutionary idea. At the time, all existing books were copied out by hand, and in order to be as efficient as possible, scribes had developed a way of writing that was full of abbreviations. Words were written in a dense cursive script, and there was very little space between letters or even words on the page.It was Gutenberg’s genius to imagine an entirely different way of writing, in which all the individual letters would be distinct from each other, rather than connected. That way, he could produce individual blocks with letters on them. He fitted these letter blocks into a frame, coated them with an ink made of linseed oil and soot, and then used an adapted wine press to print text on paper. The revolutionary effect of movable type was the ability to print an infinite number of pages from a small number of letter blocks simply by rearranging them.Within three decades there were print shops all over the European continent. It is estimated that more books were produced in the 50 years after Gutenberg’s invention than scribes had been able to produce in the 1,000 years before that.Today, about four dozen copies of the Gutenberg Bible survive. One of the most recent copies to come on the market was auctioned in New York in 1987. It consisted of only the first volume, but it was in good condition, and it sold at auction for more than five million dollars.
But a few facts not noted here.
1) When John Jacob Astor, one of the main patrons of the library, brought the Bible into the United States he made the Customs officers remove their hats.
2) Shortly after printing his Bible Gutenberg went bankrupt.
Happy birthday moveable type!