Note to readers: Barry Schraders DeKalb
County Life column will appear every other Tuesday.
High up on my bucket list of goals has been to visit the
home town of Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of movable metal
type and a press who printed the first Bible using that method.
Named the Man of the Millennium by Time magazine in 1999,
Gutenberg spent much of his life in obscurity, since only a few
written records remain that mention him, just brief legal documents
from court cases surrounding him, plus a notice of his death
The opportunity arose for me to visit Mainz, Germany this
month while on a Rhine River excursion with my family. With the
help of a journalist colleague Alix Christie, I made arrangements
to spend a day at the Gutenberg Museum and experience what life
was like for this fabled genius during the 1450s after inventing
the new form of printing and producing a Bible that has been
shown to be the finest example of early bibles ever printed,
not hand-lettered by scribes or monks.
To digress, I have known Christie since she worked on the
newspaper in Livermore, California (Tri-Valley Herald) where
I was a former editor. We both share an interest in antique letterpress
printing and her grandfather Lester Lloyd was a master printer
and foreman of M&H Type, now housed in The Presidio in San
Francisco. She now
Barry Schrader holds inking balls used to ink the
type for a page of a reproduction of the Gutenberg Bible in the
museum printshop at Mainz, Germany. (Provided photo)
Barry Schrader visits with Alix Christie near the
River Thames in London where they met earlier this month. Also
there were her husband Ludwig, son Milo, and Barry's wife Kay
and son Darrin. (Schraders photo)
resides in London and is the author of a recent novel Gutenbergs
Apprentice which has had wide appeal in both Europe and
America. I found it the best historical depiction of Gutenberg
and his travails written up to this time.
My day in Mainz was an astounding immersion into 15th Century
life and printing, hosted by Juliane Schwoch of the museum staff
who is also Secretary General of the International Gutenberg
Society. She graciously showed me around this world class institution,
allowed me to stand at the huge wooden press, a close replica
of the original from the 1400s, and even handle the inking balls
originally made of wood, wool, horsehair and animal skins. This
press is used to print reproductions of the Gutenberg Bible pages
as an educational component of the museum. I should mention that
a smaller working model of the press exists at Northern Illinois
University in the Rare Books & Special Collections Department.
Answering the many questions I had about the creation of
this new form of printing, Schwoch, who holds a PhD in art history,
explained how he combined lead, tin and antimony to produce an
alloy suitable for casting into metal letters that would withstand
the pressure and constant use required to produce approximately
180 copies of two volumes totaling 1,275 pages with a Gothic-style
type, 42 lines per page. Those who can read Latin and appreciate
fine printing are amazed at the design and quality of this tome.
Some of the bibles were printed in two colors, with hand-drawn
artwork known as Illuminations to open each chapter or add colorful
designs around the lines of printing.
I was overwhelmed to be at the birthplace of movable type
and printing. Standing on the cobblestone streets where Gutenberg
walked 565 years ago gives one a thrill and a chill, realizing
what has evolved into something many believe is the most important
development of the past 1,000 years, the ability to mass produce
and spread the printed word into every hamlet and home around
the globe. All this came to mind as I stood inside the vault
gazing at two copies of the Gutenberg Bible, part of only 49
that remain in the world today.