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Barry Schrader


I currently write a column every other Tuesday for the DeKalb Daily Chronicle. The column will also appear on this website and be added to the archives.

The Articles started December 2007.


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My pilgrimage to the Man of the Millennium

By Barry Schrader Senior Columnist...................Tuesday April 21, 2015

Note to readers: Barry Schrader’s “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 in 1468.

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 “Gutenberg’s 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.

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Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115