Gutenberg’s Bible – The Information Revolution

In the age of 3-D printing, digital technologies, and the internet, we don’t hold much fascination for books anymore. They grace the shelves of countless homes, book stores, and libraries. In other words, they are mass-printed, which makes them widely available to anyone and rather cheap at that. But this wasn’t always the case.

Once, books were highly valuable goods, owned solely by the clergy, nobility, and notable, affluent individuals. And even then, they were rather scarce and entirely unavailable to ordinary people. This seems rather bizarre now, but what happened to turn the things around? Which historic moment transformed the consumption of books?

The Printing Revolution

The answer to this question is the Gutenberg Bible. Around 1455 (the precise year is still a matter of dispute), the Gutenberg Bible, which was among the first printed books, was created using a moveable metal type. Before this, books were made using different, less productive techniques. 

They were either printed using carved wooden boards or hand-written by teams of scribes. However, scribes often made blunders, and they struggled to maintain visual uniformity throughout an entire book. But what is more, both of these techniques were pretty sluggish and took months on end to finish.

However, a change ensued when Johannes Gutenberg, a German inventor, devised a printing press. Gutenberg’s press enabled books to be printed on a much larger scale and in a much shorter amount of time. His invention marked the advent of mass printing, and consequently, revolutionized the circulation of knowledge.  

The Printing Process

The press was used to print approximately 180 copies of the Gutenberg Bible. Today, 49 original copies are known to exist around the world. But even now, little is known about the actual printing process and the design of the press. It is speculated that Gutenberg was heavily inspired by winepresses of the time.

Gutenberg’s press included a plate that was lowered onto a wooden stand using a big lever. The wooden stand held the metal type covered in ink, and a piece of paper laid atop the metal type. Once everything was in place, the pressman pulled the lever, which pushed the plate against the paper, and consequently, created a print.  

Most of the Gutenberg Bibles were printed on paper, but for some, the materials used were much more luxurious, such as calfskin. After printing, some copies were hand-illuminated by skillful individuals and sold for considerably higher prices. Others, on the other hand, were left undecorated.

How Gutenberg’s Press Changed the World?

Gutenberg’s printing press altered the course of history. Although the change wasn’t an instantaneous one, the press transformed the way knowledge circulated. Naturally, Gutenberg’s invention soon spread throughout the whole of Europe. And by the start of the 16th century, books were produced in a much higher capacity.

Since knowledge was now much more accessible, it is believed that Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press was the stepping stone toward the transition into the modern period of human history, which prompted the emergence of the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation, and the scientific revolution.   

[1] “Gutenberg and the Book That Changed the World.” Retinart [Online] Available at: http://retinart.net/beautiful-things/gutenberg-book-changed-world/ [Accessed on: 25 Apr. 2020]