May 5, 2011
“In the cultural history of mankind there is no event even approaching in importance the invention of printing with movable types. It would require an extensive volume to set forth even in outline the far-reaching effects of this invention in every field of human enterprise and experience, or to describe its results in the liberation of the human spirit from the fetters of ignorance and superstition” (McMurtrie 136).
Johann Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press is extolled in Douglas McMurtrie’s work, The Book: The Story of Printing and Bookmaking. Indeed this invention has changed the world. It allowed for the spread of information quickly and inexpensively. The idea of using separate type was not a novel one, movable metal type was used in printing in Korea in the fourteenth century. Printing with movable wood blocks even predates this by several centuries in China. This in no way should undercut the value of Gutenberg’s invention because he was able to build the first machine that was capable of incorporating movable type on a much larger scale. The importance of his invention was recognized by his contemporaries who tried to take the credit and a share of the profits he would surely garner. There were three lawsuits brought by his peers that corroborate his ownership in the production of the press: the Strasbourg lawsuit of 1439, the Fust lawsuit of 1455 and the Humery quittance of 1468 (see chapter 10 of McMurtrie’s book for more information on the lawsuits).
Gutenberg’s 42-line Bible of 1455 is considered to be the first European printed book. L. Tom Perry Special Collections is fortunate enough to have a Gutenberg Cooper Square Facsimile available for viewing by the general public. This facsimile was made in 1961 and features a 15th Century style pigskin binding. Feel free to come see this beautiful reproduction in the reading room. A Reference Assistant will be more than happy to help you.
Also, if you are interested in the history of printing you can schedule a presentation with the Reception Desk that includes a leaf from an original Gutenberg Bible. The number is (801) 422-3514.