HIW on Facebook    Follow us on Twitter    Subscribe to HIW Newsletter  
Howard Iron Works - Printing and Bookbinding Equipment Restoration and Printing Museum  


Articles & Knowledge Centre › Here

Articles and Knowledge Centre at Howard Iron Works Printing Museum and Restoration

The Little Wonder
1914 Bugra
1893 World's
Columbian Expo
CN Tower
The Big Strike
Deception in
The Genius of
Friedrich Köenig
Sticks, Lies, and
Movable Type
Mummy Rags At A
Yankee Paper Mill
How A Printer Is Managed
Heidelberg's Greatest Gift
Development Of The
Heidelberg T Platen
Howard Iron Works Glimpses into the Past - Sticks, Lies and Movable Tupe - The True Invention of Printing

It has been widely accepted today that Johannes Gutenberg was the inventor of the printing press and process using movable type.  Yet for centuries following the invention, the identity of the true inventor of the craft had often been questioned and fiercely contested by scholars and historians.

Greed, deceptions, lies, whether for personal profit, national pride or family honor – whatever the motivations were behind the mostly unsubstantiated assertions, during the 300 years after Gutenberg completed his 42-line bible, various claimants had attempted to unseat his place in history.

Here is one of the articles on the subject published in November 1884 issue of Inland Printer.

Discovery of documents unknown to any historian of printing

We have already referred to the exceedingly interesting character of the paper read before the Dublin Congress by Mr. George Bullen, of the British Museum. The communication was founded on a recent discovery that the inventor of printing was identified, in a book published in 1470, as Bonne-montanus, the Latinized form of Gutenberg. Instead of reprinting Mr. Bullen’s paper, we give the following account of the article on which it was based, with an original translation of the Latin passage in question:

In the number of the 10th of October, Le Livre, has given prominence to an article of M. Dutent, devoted to the interesting question, “Who is the Inventor of Printing?” the article being extracted from a new manual for the amateurs of engraving, written by one who had labored for many years on the rich library at Rouen. The author brought forward with much clearness and reviewed with considerable sagacity the texts of the principal known documents, distinguishing, after the example of Mr. Hessels, the pieces that were certainly apocryphal and those that were suspected of being so. This conclusion is a sensible one, and his opinion may be regarded as impartial, being altogether devoid of the blindness, which the spirit of patriotism often induces when such questions are treat of.

It was in the Low Countries, evidently, that the first attempts at printing were made. Whether these were of the nature of block printing, originally, and whether later on they made use of letters separated one from the other, either engraved on wood, or on lead, or founded or cast by some imperfect process. The fact is that what it is convenient to call the Dutch school, or that of Haarlem, has not left any products of the art that are not merely rudimentary.

The story, told by Junius, of a workman named John, who in the middle of one Christmas night, stole the types and materials of Coster, and then proceeded with them to Amsterdam (then a place of no importance), thence to Cologne, and afterwards to Mayence, where he printing in 1442 certain books similar to those of Coster, with the type and utensils belonging to his former master, is in the last degree unworthy of belief, and ought to be regarded merely as a fable. The invention of a man of genius, the true practical secret of printing with movable types, such as that connected with Mayence, has no relationship with the legend of the dishonest workman.

What is really incontestable, is that during the first half of the 15th century, at a date earlier than is generally imagined, in various places such as the Low Countries, the banks of the Rhine, and Germany, people were engaged secretly in experimenting in processes for reproducing pictures, and for multiplying writings, by material and mechanical means, without the employment of the pen. There will be found, in the remarkable work of Mr. Hessels, on Gutenberg, page 7, various names of artisans in this branch of industry, with certain dates and the names of the places where they lived. Wimpfeling has made known in his “Catalogus Episcopprum Argentinensium,” that Gutenberg, after the loss of his first process at Strasbourg, arrived at Mayence in 1445, and found there some investigators, men who were like himself making experiments in this direction “in hac arte investiganda similiter laborantes.”

In fact, printing could only have been invented in this way. The experience of one man is taken advantage of by another, and the failure of one is a guide to his successor. From mistakes and failures knowledge is derived. The first ill designed efforts give place to better processes. A man of intelligence, laboring and experimenting by himself, ultimately utilizes the experience of his predecessors, and, avoiding their errors, evolves a process, an art and an industry, in reality – and of this he was in reality, as was declared by his contemporaries, the inventor.

Such was the position of Gutenberg. The document appended, which is not known to any historian of printing, is of prime importance; for in it Gutenberg is asserted to be the real inventor of typography, as it exists even in the present day.

In a letter of Savoisien Guillaume Fichet, addressed to Robert Gaguin, a printed letter, which we find at the head of some copies of the work entitled “Gasparini Pergamensis Orthographic Liber,” in small 4to, the second book printed in Paris, we read, folio 2, verso, the following passage:

Instead of reprinting the original Latin we give the following translation: “The new class of book publishers whom, within our recollection Germany has, like a sort of Trojan horse, poured forth in every direction, have brought to us a great illumination, for they say that there was, not far from the city of Mentz, a certain John with a surname Gutten-Berg, who first contrived, some time ago, an art of Printing by which they make books, not with a reed as other scribes did in the old times, nor with a quill as we do now, but with brazen letters, and that too in an elegant, even and beautiful manner; that man certainly was worthy of being endowed with divine honors by all the muses, by all arts, and by all the tongues of those who delight in books, and of being esteemed much more eminent than the gods and goddesses *** to, and as Ceres was the first to cleave the sod with the plough, the first to give food and sustenance to the world, yet that Gutten-Berg made a far more precious and divine discovery; for he carved out letters of such a kind that whatever can be said or thought may be very soon written and copied and committed to the memory of posterity. But I must not omit to mention here those among us who already surpass their masters in the art, of whom Ulrich, Michael and Martin are said to be the chief, who some time ago printed the letters of Gaspurin, which John Lapidanus revised. *** Written in haste by me at the Sorbornne on the 1st of January at day break.”

The value of these statements must be striking to every reader. We find here besides a eulogium on printing, the name of its inventor. This is the authentic testimony of makers of books by a new process. Who were these strangers, the new comers? One was named John, surnamed Gutten-Berg, who was the first to invent the art of printing. This is clear and precise.

We must now see who those were who became guarantees of Claudin’s assertion. These were the master printers who brought to Paris the new art which it is said Louis XI induced to stay in Paris, and which the Prior of Sorbonne called the Germans. Among these three master printers, we find Martin Krantz, who was the son of Peter Krantz, who figures as a witness in the second trial of Gutten-Berg, at Mayence, in 1455. The two others, Michel Friburger and Urich Gering, were also well known. They came from Basle before they established a printing office in Paris. There can be no doubt that the testimony of these three printers may be relied upon in regard to the inventor of the art. They brought with them to Paris the secrets of its origin, and in this way announced to all the world the name of the inventor of their new industry. Fichet edited their Declaration, which they signed for the benefit of posterity.

Here certainly is a document which may be called contemporaneous, as Gutten-Berg died in 1468, and the testimony authentic and undeniable just before, not hitherto discovered, the very earliest known up to the present time being the “Chronicle of the Popes” by Philip de Signamine, in addition to those of the “Chronicle of Cologne”, etc. The date of the letter of Fichet is easy to fix. The book is, it is well known, the second one printed in Paris at the Sorbonne. The first book printed at Paris was issued at the end of the year 1469, or at the beginning of 1470. The preface of book now under notice being dated in the month of January, the first of the three last months of the year, when it was begun at Eastertide. It therefore follows that the letter of Fichet to Gaguin is at the end of the same year, namely 1470.

Dr. Ingram remarked that there was no copy of the Orthographia in Trinity College Library. As to the main question – namely, who was the author of printing in Europe – he feared they must be content to remain in an agnostic state of mind.

Mr. Richard Garnett stated that he had had in his possession a copy of a work by an Italian writer of the sixteenth century, Passi, in which he stated Gutenberg learned the art of printing from a Chinese through the medium of the Russians. Passi mentioned that he had seen Chinese work which had been presented to Pope Leo X by Portuguese, and learning from these that the Chinese were acquainted with printing, he formed his theory respecting Gutenberg.

Mr. Bullen remarked that the art of printing from blocks might have been introduced from China, but the real printing was printing from movable types, and printing from movable types was known in Japan and the Corea before the introduction of printing in Europe. The British Museum now contained 300 volumes which had been purchased from Her Majesty’s Consul at Bangkok, and Professor Douglas had assured him (Mr. Bullen) that some of those works were printed about 1417.

Mr. Harrison (London) remarked that the irony of fate was shown in the fact that Fichet, who wrote of the art of printing as perpetuating the memory of man, did not get his own letter made known until 400 years after it was written.

The end.


Howard Iron Works Logo

Printing Museum
and Restoration
Howard Iron Works Address

800 Westgate Road
Oakville, ON L6L 5N2

Tel. (905) 821-0000
Email: info@howardironworks.org
Website: www.howardironworks.org

Howard Iron Works Quick Link

- The Collection

- Restoration

- HIW Museum

- Lease/Sales Program
HIW on Facebook    Follow us on Twitter   

- Antique Books & Periodicals

- About HIW

- Volunteering Opportunities

- Museum Shop

  Copyright © 1967-2020 Howard Iron Works and Howard Graphic Group of Companies.  All rights reserved.