a printing press from the Gutenberg era

A Gutenberg-era printing press

Johannes Gutenberg of Strasboug, Germany was an incurable inventor-entrepreneur. He was a man of ideas. He worked on an idea for a printing press with removable type as early as 1439. By the 1450s, he began printing bibles.

Unfortunately, “Gutenberg goes bankrupt in 1455, when his investor Johann Faust forecloses on the mortgage used to finance the building of the press. Faust gets hold of the printing equipment as well as the 200 copies of the bible that have already been printed. While trying to sell them in Paris Faust tries to keep the printing process a secret and pretends the bibles are hand copied. It is noticed that the volumes resemble each other and Faust is charged with witchcraft. He has to confess his scheme to to avoid prosecution.” (Prepressure.com)

[Faust actually originally went by Fust. His children adopted the ‘a’ which has often been used for Johann.]

Fust and Schoffer, arrived in Paris in 1463 with printed books for sale. The printers guilds, rightly anticipating a challenge to their business, confiscated the books. Louis XI (the ‘Spider King’, so named for his adroit political webs) paid them a handsome sum as gratitude for introducing the city to the new technology. Seven years later, scholars at the Sorbonne invited two Swiss printers to set up a printshop in a spare room. (Andrew Hussey, Paris: The Secret History, 109-110.)

From there, printing exploded in the French capital.

“By the 1480s Paris was seventh in Europe in terms of book production; by 1500 it was second only to Venice; and during the sixteenth century it became the most prolific printing centre in Europe, producing some 25,000 titles, as against Venice’s 15,000. Even in the early sixteenth century Paris possessed 102 presses, mostly on the Left Bank, especially around the Rue Saint-Jacques. At one time there were 160 printshops to be found in 80 houses along the street.” (Colin Jones, Paris: The Biography of a City, p. 103.)

(If you really want an old history of printing in Paris, try this.)