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Digital Gutenberg Images
The Book before Gutenberg
The Printing of the Bible
The Spread of Printing
The Appearance of the Bible
Anatomy of a Page
The Ransom Center Copy
Digital Gutenberg Project
K-12 Educator materials
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Hypothetical portrait of Johann Gutenberg, from 1584.
Johann Gutenberg, ca. 1400-1468
There are only a few documents that tell the early history of printing and its discoverer. Little is known about the life of Johann (or Johannes) Gutenberg, including his actual year of birth. For example, we do not know if he was married. Even the most familiar engraved portraits of Gutenberg were made long after his death and are based on speculations about his appearance.
These are the basic facts about his life, based on a handful of legal and financial papers: he was born Johann Gensfleisch zum Gutenberg in Mainz, Germany and moved to Strasbourg sometime before 1434. Legal records show that he was involved in a partnership to produce metal hand mirrors used by pilgrims visiting holy sites. The skills acquired in this endeavor must have been useful to him as he developed a method of making metal type for printing.
Sometime between 1444 and 1448, Gutenberg returned to Mainz, but there is little information about his activities for the next decade. A 1455 document known as the Helmasperger Instrument shows that Gutenberg's wealthy business partner Johann Fust sued him for the return of certain large sums of money loaned by Fust. In all probability, these funds were used in the development of printing and the production of Gutenberg's Bible, which was completed around 1455. Gutenberg lost this suit and presumably had to turn over some of his printing equipment to Fust, who later formed an important printing partnership with Peter Schöffer, Gutenberg's assistant. Little is known about Gutenberg's later years, although he was given a pension by the Archbishop of Mainz and presumably lived comfortably until his death in 1468.
Mainz, Germany (from Braun & Hogenberg, Civitates orbis terrarum, 1572). HRC book collections.
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