See How The Gutenberg Press Worked: Demonstration Shows the Oldest Functioning Gutenberg Press in Action

Peo­ple have spo­ken for decades, and with great cer­tain­ty, of the impend­ing death of print. But even here into the 21st cen­tu­ry, press­es con­tin­ue to run around the world, putting out books and peri­od­i­cals of all dif­fer­ent shapes, sizes, and print runs. The tech­nol­o­gy has endured so well in part because it has had so long to evolve. Every­one knows that print­ing began with some­thing called the Guten­berg Press, and many know that Guten­berg him­self (Johannes, a Ger­man black­smith) unveiled his inven­tion in 1440, intro­duc­ing mov­able type to the world. Ten years lat­er came the Guten­berg Bible, the first major book print­ed using it, still con­sid­ered among the most beau­ti­ful books ever mass-pro­duced.

But how did the Guten­berg press actu­al­ly work? In the video above, you can watch a demon­stra­tion of “the most com­plete and func­tion­ing Guten­berg Press in the world” at the Cran­dall His­tor­i­cal Print­ing Muse­um in Pro­vo, Utah. While it cer­tain­ly marked a vast improve­ment in effi­cien­cy over the hand-copy­ing used to make books before, it still required no small amount of labor on the part of an entire staff spe­cial­ly trained to apply the ink, square up the paper, and turn a not-that-easy-to-turn lever. The guide, who’s clear­ly put in the years mas­ter­ing his rou­tine, has both clear expla­na­tions and plen­ty of corny jokes at hand through­out the process.

One can hard­ly over­state the impor­tance of the machine we see in action here, which facil­i­tat­ed the spread of ideas all around Europe and the world and turned the book into what no less a technophile than Stephen Fry calls “the build­ing block of our civ­i­liza­tion.” He says that in an episode of the BBC series The Medieval Mind in which he explores the world of Guten­berg print­ing in even greater depth. We’ve grown so accus­tomed to the near-instan­ta­neous trans­fer of infor­ma­tion over the inter­net that deal­ing with print can feel like a has­sle. I myself just recent­ly resent­ed hav­ing to buy a print­er for work rea­sons, even though its sheer speed and clar­i­ty would have seemed like a mir­a­cle to Guten­berg, whose inven­tion — and the labor of the count­less skilled work­ers who oper­at­ed it — set in motion the devel­op­ments that let us spread ideas so impos­si­bly fast on sites like this today.

via Kot­tke

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty Presents the 550-Year-Old Guten­berg Bible in Spec­tac­u­lar, High-Res Detail

How Ink is Made: A Volup­tuous Process Revealed in a Mouth-Water­ing Video

The Art of Col­lo­type: See a Near Extinct Print­ing Tech­nique, as Lov­ing­ly Prac­ticed by a Japan­ese Mas­ter Crafts­man

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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  • Dick Margulis says:

    Some minor cor­rec­tions. Guten­berg did not invent print­ing. Print­ing from carved wood blocks was an exist­ing tech­nol­o­gy and used a sim­i­lar press (which ulti­mate­ly had been adapt­ed from fruit press­es used for crush­ing grapes and olives) that he in turn adapt­ed to work with his cast types. His prin­ci­ple (and clever­est) inven­tion, which made mod­ern print­ing eco­nom­i­cal­ly fea­si­ble, was an adjustable rec­tan­gu­lar mold that could be used to cast indi­vid­ual types effi­cient­ly. Print­ing from move­able type had been done ear­li­er in Asia, although Guten­berg may not have known about that. But his cast­ing sys­tem made it pos­si­ble to pro­duce types quick­ly in large quan­ti­ties.

    The cut­ting of let­ter punch­es (the mas­ters used for cast­ing types) was an exist­ing tech­nol­o­gy that Guten­berg, a gold­smith, not a black­smith, was famil­iar with. Such punch­es were used to emboss let­ter­ing on sil­ver and gold objects.

    So, yes, Guten­berg put togeth­er the whole process and was the inven­tor of the key inno­va­tion that made mod­ern print­ing pos­si­ble. But he did­n’t walk out into a desert with a bunch of lum­ber on his back and invent every­thing from scratch. He built on the exist­ing tech­nol­o­gy and jumped it for­ward.

  • Meship says:


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