Gutenberg, Fust, and Rare Book Libraries

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March 13, 2014 by libroshombre

Old Johann Fust was something. He underwrote Gutenberg’s printshop with two loans in 1450 and 1452 totaling 1,600 guilders. Three years later, when Gutenberg’s Bibles were almost finished, Fust sued for 2,026 guilders and won the Bibles and all GutenberFeatured imageg’s equipment. Some historians view Fust as the beneficent enabler of the creation of print technology. It’s suspicious how Gutenberg wasn’t anticipating Fust’s foreclosure and how quickly Fust took possession of Gutenberg’s equipment and soon began printing Bibles with the assistance of Gutenberg’s former apprentice, one Peter Schoeffer. They sold the Bibles for 40 guilders,or about 2,200 modern Euros, passing them off as hand-made. And a few years later Schoeffer married Fust’s daughter.

The full story’s unknown, and much of what we “know” is unreliable. For example, it’s generally assumed that German goldsmith Johann Gutenberg invented the printing press. MIT’s “Inventor of the Week Archive,” describes how Gutenberg created “a device that would make it possible to print texts using moveable blocks of letters and graphics. These, used with paper, ink, and a press, would make it possible to print books much faster and more cheaply than eveFeatured imager before.”

However, Gutenberg didn’t invent the press, paper, or special ink; others did all that. He’s been credited with finding a suitable metal alloy for producing durable molds for reproducing fonts of sturdy type that can be taken apart and re-used. Now a librarian and physicist from Princeton have proven that Gutenberg didn’t even do that.

Paul Needham is the head of Princeton’s Scheide Library and a noted rare book scholar. Actually, the thirty-by-thirty foot Gothic-style Scheide Library is William H. Scheide’s personal property. Princeton lets Scheide’s library adjoin their main library because it’s among the world’s greatest book collections, and Scheide gives their students access. William T. Scheide, H’s grandfather, began the collection with a first edition of Michael Faraday’s “Chemical History of a Candle.” A much later edition’s on the Noel Wien Library shelves, and it’s an entertaining read.

William T., a colleague of John D. Rockerfeller, acquired many rare books, but his son and grandson extended the collection dramatically. In fact, the Scheides have their own chapter in Nicholas Basbanes’ excellent “A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books,” also owned by our library. Need a First FoliFeatured imageo of Shakespeare’s works? The Scheide Library’s got several, along with an originalof the Declaration of Independence, Beethoven’s autographed sketchbook, and the big four in Bibles: a Gutenberg, and a “36-Line,” a “Mentelin,” and a “1462” printed by Furst and Schoeffer.

The “36-Line Bible” is also known as the Bamburg Bible, after Bamberg, Germany, its probable place of origin. It was printed in 1458, about when Gutenberg died, and is the second printed Bible. Some experts think Gutenberg printed it, too. Johann Mentelin was another German printer whose Bible came out in 1460. William H. just acquired the Mentelin Bible recently for somewhere “in the seven figures.” All these Bibles are extremely rare; only two other people have ever owned all four simultaneously: King George III and the second Earl Spencer, Princess Di’s relative. According to a www.Princeton.edu article, Needham and his associate, physicist Blaise Aguera y Arcas have shown that instead oFeatured imagef re-using the same pieces of metal type to print the various pages of his Bible, Gutenberg may have “used an earlier technology that involves casting letters in molds of sand – molds that could not be re-used.” The sand was very fine, fooling generations of scholars, but modern computers and applied mathematics showedthat the individual letters that should have been identical all varied. “Nobody is going to say that this was made by crude technology,” Needham pointed out, saying “On the page it looks better than bookFeatured images today.”

Furst and Schoeffer’s 1462 Bible, utilized red ink. Furst presented copies to the King of France, pretending it was hand-made, but the ruse was detected. Worse, the identical letters in each book led to suspicion of witchcraft, and the red ink was thought to be blood.

As another American Librarian, Lawrence Powell, put it, “We are the children of a technological age … Printing is no longer the only way of reproducing books. Reading them, however, has not changed.”

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