Gutenberg’s World: How Printing Arose in 15th Century Mainz
6 pm friday, october 23
Before explaining how she came to write the historical novel Gutenberg’s Apprentice, Alix Christie won the audience by divulging her background as a letterpress printer. This lends authority to her book wherein she imagines the circumstances that produced the 42-line Bible through the eyes of Peter Schoeffer, the young scribe-turned-printer in Johann Gutenberg’s workshop. With this the stage is set for a reexamination of the myth of the mistreated genius Gutenberg and his rapacious financier Johann Fust who foreclosed on the enterprise. Christie, a journalist, spoke eloquently about the inspiration for choosing the invention of printing as a topic for fiction: a theory posited by Paul Needham and Blaise Agüera y Arcas in 2001, that elemental punches and temporary matrices were used to cast the type for the 42-line Bible. Christie’s book assigns the development of both whole-letter punches and metal matrices to Schoeffer. She reminded us that Schoeffer, who was essentially the first master of the trade, was also responsible for inventing the title page, printing or publishing 300 books, and co-founding the Frankfurt Book Fair. These are accomplishments obscured by the popular, heroic version of the invention of printing.