Johann Gutenberg: The Inventor of Printing

Johann Gutenberg: The Inventor of Printing

Johann Gutenberg: The Inventor of Printing

Johann Gutenberg: The Inventor of Printing

Excerpt

The multiplication of books by writing with the pen is a slow process and peculiarly liable to inaccuracies, and the desire for a more satisfactory substitute must have often made itself felt through the ages among the literate. But it was not until the fifteenth century of our era was nearly half spent that we know of any practical steps being taken towards devising some method of superseding the pen by mechanical means of reproduction. It is noteworthy that these efforts appear to have been made exclusively in Europe north of the Alps, where the problem was evidently in the air for some time before its solution. Why this should have been so cannot here be further discussed, beyond suggesting that the greater ease of communication between scholars in the climatic and cultural conditions of Italy at this time may have caused the shortcomings of pen-and-ink to be less urgently felt than in the North; certainly the skill of Italian craftsmen was in no way inferior to that of their Northern rivals.

It had long been customary, in the case of books bound in leather, to impress upon the top cover the title of the text within, or the name of its author, by means of brass punches bearing the letters of the alphabet applied singly as required, and the possibility of extending this method to reproducing the text itself must surely have occurred time and again to inquiring minds. These minds were on the right track, had they fully realized it, but the practical difficulties were of the most formidable, and appear to have discouraged any attempt to overcome them for more . . .

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