Curious facts about Johannes Gutenberg

Given that the Frankfurt Book Fair is about to start (October 12 – October 16, 2011), it seemed like a good idea to check into the fellow who, for all intents and purposes, made the book trade possible: Johannes Gutenberg (Mainz, Germany, circa 1398 – Mainz, Germany, February 1468).

Everybody knows that Gutenberg invented the printing press (around 1444),

Gutenberg printing press

and that among the early projects was what came to be known as the Gutenberg Bible (1455).

Gutenberg bible

But did you know that the man who financed the project, Johann Fust (circa 1400 – 1466), accused Gutenberg of misappropriating the funds and took him to the court of the Archbishp of Mainz? Gutenberg had printed about 180 bibles, and his debt had gone far beyond the original loan of 800 gilders.  Fust claimed that Gutenberg had used the money for things unrelated to the bible project and demanded ownership of half the printed bibles and control of the printing shop. He won.  Gutenberg’s print shop became the Fust-Schöffer shop, the first ever shop to mention the printer’s name, thus essentially creating the first publisher’s imprint. Gutenberg, however, was bankrupt. While he probably started a new print shop in Bamberg and likely printed another bible, he never quite recovered financially, living out his life on a stipend by the Archbishop of Mainz. Yet while he was not successful in his lifetime, his legacy far outlasted him. In a letter in honor of the 1900 opening of the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz,

Gutenberg Museum in Mainz, Germany

Mark Twain wrote: “What the world is today, good and bad, it owes to Gutenberg.” Visit