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History Cat Lessons: Creative and Engaging

The Gutenberg Bible sold for $5.4 million dollars at an auction at Christie's.

Making it the highest selling book in history!

Update Coming Soon

Johnann Gutenberg  (1398-1468)



The Italian Renaissance might have gotten new ideas from the Islamic Golden Age, but those ideas would have likely just stayed in the library of some dusty monastery if it had not been for an invention by Johann Gutenberg.

Gutenberg was a goldsmith and also involved in the cloth trade. Not much is known about Gutenberg's early life but somewhere along the way Gutenberg got the idea to create a device, the moveable type printing press, that would turn the Italian Renaissance into a European revolution. Actually, 'invent' may not be the right word- 'perfect' may be better. But as the adage goes, there really are no new ideas.

The Chinese actually were the first to invent a printing press. In the 800's, a Buddhist work called the Diamond Sutra was the world's first printed book. However, this style used a template where each page had to be carved from clay, which makes it impossible to make changes. In 1041, the Chinese invented movable type using clay molds where each character was its own mold. However, clay molds were easily broken.



 

Invented in 1450, Gutenberg's model used wood or metal as the mold for his movable type printing press. Gutenberg borrowed the inspiration for his printing machine from a wine press.



Gutenberg's machine was a huge success (although some scoffed at first). By making the creation of books faster and easier, it also made it cheaper. (In medieval times, books were hand copied by monks -not very easy or fast). This meant that knowledge was not just for monks but even the middle class merchants could afford to buy books.



 

What's even cooler about the printing press is that Latin no longer had to be the only language used. Knowledge in the medieval ages was solely in Latin -the language of the Church. The problem with this was very few people (except monks and the highly educated could speak it much less read it). Gutenberg's printing press allowed books (the first book printed was the Bible) to be translated into the language of the people.

So, what happened to Gutenberg? You might expect that the Renaissance  version of the internet would have made its inventor fabulously wealthy. Sadly, it did not. To build the press Gutenberg had to borrow the money from a businessman named Fust. After his invention was unveiled, Gutenberg spent the rest of his life (and life savings) in court being sued by the man he went into business with.

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Chinese typed page using movable type.
Dating from around 1300s.
The Book Explosion in Europe

 

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