Beginnings in Mainz

Virtually all fifteenth-century sources that mention the European invention of printing with moveable type point to the years just prior to 1455, to the German city of Mainz, and to Johannes Gutenberg (c. 1400–1468). A minor noble of Mainz with ties to the local mint and goldsmiths’ guild, Gutenberg is believed to have printed several brief tracts, schoolbooks, and single-sheet indulgences shortly before 1455. In November of that year, Johann Fust, an investor in Mainz, sued Gutenberg for the repayment of two enormous loans that had financed a joint venture called the “work of the books.” This large project is widely assumed to be the first printing of the Latin Bible.

Legend has it that once the Bibles were completed, Fust seized Gutenberg’s printing equipment in a devastating legal settlement. However, Gutenberg apparently developed new materials and techniques for the printing of the Catholicon in 1460. Meanwhile, by 1457 Fust had formed a second printing partnership with the calligrapher Peter Schoeffer in Mainz. Within three years, their colleagues had established presses in Strasbourg and Bamberg, and by the end of the fifteenth century more than 240 European towns had employed printing presses. The total output of these presses exceeded thirty thousand editions consisting of several million individual books and broadsides.

  Gutenberg Bible
(31 leaves)
 Gutenberg Bible (vellum leaf) Gutenberg Bible (paper leaf) Durandus, Rationale, 1459  
  Balbus, Catholicon, 1460 Latin Bible,
Cicero, De officiis, 1465 Indulgence broadside, 1480