Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Gutenberg, Caxton and the origins of printing - Journalism Now

In the year 1436 German inventor Johannes Gutenberg began inventing the printing press; it was complete in 1440. This machine, although requiring many tweaks over the years, remained the principal means of printing until the late twentieth century. Gutenberg had created the first machine that could print using movable type: each character is cast upon a separate piece of metal, therefore giving the availability to move the lettering around.

     Before Gutenberg's invention woodblock printing was used; this took a lot longer as the lettering was carved by hand. It was also extremely costly as the wood would have a short life span, so the lettering would have to be reproduced on a large scale.
     Early productions from the printing press were slips of paper sold by the Catholic Church to remit temporal punishments in purgatory for sins committed. This is what was known as a mass-produced indulgence but though only the wealthy could afford it, it was done on a large scale. In 1450 Gutenberg entered into a partnership with Johan Fust and legal documents suggest this is when he began producing the Bible. Fust entered into this partnership as Gutenberg was finding it difficult to fund the printing press - something Fust would be able to help with.

     All seemed to be going well, until 1455 when Fust sued Gutenberg winning possession of all the equipment and the almost completed version of the Bible -- this was completed in 1456. One year after the production of the Bible, Fust and former assistant to Gutenberg, Peter Schoffer, published the Mainz Psalter which featured red and blue text; this Psalter was also the first book to have the printer's trademark and imprint along with the date of publication.

      At this point it is clear to see the impact that Gutenberg's invention had on the advancement for printing. People were now able to read the Bible and not only saw publications as a reminder of the past, but also as a sign for the future.

     Even though Gutenberg had lost his invention to Fust, he was not finished. He created the new printer's outfit which was a set of small types with round, cursive handwriting an invention which really took off after Gutenberg's death in 1468. One of the most influential printers was a man called William Caxton. He was an Englishman who was the first to bring the print press to England (1476) and was arguably the best printer of his day. It can be said that Caxton was the important figure for printing in England and was therefore instrumental in getting English scholars heard around the world.

     The print press houses were so common that by 1499 more than 2500 European cities had one; also by this time 15 million books had been produced, which is a staggering amount. Obviously, the more books that were produced, the cheaper they became. And this, in turn, meant that wider groups of the public were able to enjoy them.
     Gutenberg's invention has proved extremely important to the growth of the media today. Such things such as propaganda have relied heavily on the print press; the 'Turkenkalender' was the one of the original works of the printing press and was propaganda against the Turks. It can be inferred that if Gutenberg had not invented the printing press, propaganda such as motivational signs during the World Wars would not have been able to have such a great affect. It also resulted in an increase in censorship, which was a sign that it was felt by those in authority to be dangerous and challenging to their position. This link is a six part documentary to the invention of the printing press. I found it very helpful, and interesting.

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  1. Found this really interesting and easy to read; didn't notice any mistakes either! Well done :)

  2. Alexa traffic rank is 4.2 = 10 is lowest possible to measure; 1 is the highest. Will comment more on the blogs later.