1902 Encyclopedia > Johann Gutenberg

Johann Gutenberg
German printer and the first European to print from movable type
(c. 1400 - 1468)




JOHN GUTENBERG (JOHANN GUTENBERG) was born about 1410 at Mainz of noble parents, his father being Frielo zum Gansfleisch, and his mother, whose name he adopted, Else zu Gudenberg. In 1420 the citizens of Mainz drove the patricians out of the city, and as Gutenberg's name appears about ten years later at Strasburg the family probably took refuge there. When the expelled families were recalled to Mainz, Gutenberg did not avail himself of the privilege. We next hear of him at Strasburg, where in 1434 he seized and imprisoned the town clerk of Mainz for a debt due by the corporation of that city, releasing him, however, at the urgent representations of the mayor and counsellors of Strasburg. In 1437 Gutenberg was sued before the ecclesi-astical court by Emmeline zu Iserne-Thure for breach of promise of marriage, the case being settled by his making her his wife. The active mind of Gutenberg had adopted several plans for making money before he invented the art of printing with movable types, which is his great claim upon the gratitude of mankind. Before 1425 he engaged in some experiments requiring money, when Andrew Dritzehn, a fellow-citizen, became security for him; and the same year a partnership between them was arranged to carry out Gutenberg's new plan for polishing stones. Next came an improvement in the manufacture of looking-glasses, for which money was lent by other two friends. For these a lucrative sale was expected at the approaching pilgrimage to Aix-la-Chapelle, which, however, was unfortunately postponed. In 1438 was arranged a partnership between Gutenberg, Andrew Dritzehn, Andrew Heilmann, and Anton Heilmann, and that this concerned the new art of printing appears from the long law proceedings which soon after followed. The action was brought by the brothers of Dritzehn, who was dead, to force Gutenberg to reveal the secrets of the partnership. The decision was in favour of Gutenberg. In January 1441 Gutenberg obtained 80 livres by mortgaging some house property, and again in 1442 he borrowed money of Martin Brether for carrying on his experiments. For four years after this nothing is known of Gutenberg except that his wife paid taxes





in his name. He now returned to his native city, Mainz, where he borrowed 100 guilders of his kinsman Arnold Gelthus, and established himself in the house Zum Jungen, which was part of the family possessions. At this time Gutenberg must have been able to show some solid and convincing results of his new invention, for he obtained substantial aid from a shrewd goldsmith, John Fust or Faust, who advanced 800 guilders to promote the work, taking as security a mortgage on all the printing materials to be purchased. Gutenberg at once set to work upon a large folio Latin Bible, the printing of which was ended before August 1455. During the progress of this great undertaking several forms of indulgence and other small things were printed, the earliest with a date being the Indulgence of 1454 in the library at Althorp. But the new art was certainly not a success commercially, and again Fust had to come forward with another 80'0 guilders to prevent a collapse. In November 1455 Fust determined to dissolve his connexion with Gutenberg, and demanded pay-ment of his advances. Gutenberg not being able to refund so large a sum, Fust took legal proceedings against him, and he was eventually compelled to yield up the whole of the printing materials, which at once were removed by Fust to his own house at Mainz. Here with the assistance of Peter Schoffer he continued to print until the sack of the city in 1462 by Adolphus II. Gutenberg, now in the evening of life, had to make a fresh start in the world, and fortun-ately in Dr Humery of Mainz found a friend who assisted him with capital. Embarrassment, however, still pursued him, and the press made slow progress. It is uncertain whether the new press of Gutenberg was in Mainz or at the neighbouring town of Eltvill. On January 17, 1465, Gutenberg accepted the post, at the court of Archbishop Adolphus, of salaried courtier. He received annually a suit of livery together with a fixed allowance of corn and wine. Meantime the printing materials were lent to the brothers Bechtermunze, who printed some inconsiderable works, and upon the death of Gutenberg were claimed and taken by Dr Humery. On February 2, 1468, died Gutenberg, poor, childless, and almost friendless, after laying the foundations of an art which was soon to dominate the world. Arnold Gelthus erected a monument to his memory near his grave, and forty years afterwards Ivo Wittig set up a memorial tablet at the legal college in Mainz.
No portrait of Gutenberg is known, those appearing upon medals, statues, or engraved plates being all fictitious. The latest authority upon his life and work is Gutenberg, by Dr Van der Linde.






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