UDC 655


Elezović Dalibor Milorad
University of Pristina, Serbia
PhD, Department of history

This paper deals with the description of the invention of Gutenberg based upon a book "History of Strasbourg bishops" of the year 1608. Author of the book, historian Franz Guilliman discusses of Strasbourg episode during the Gutenberg's project of improvement on printing techniques.

Keywords: bishop, diocese, Guilliman, Gutenberg, History of Strasbourg bishops, history of the book, printing, Strasbourg

Article reference:
Elezović D.M. The description of Gutenberg’s invention in “History of Strasbourg bishops” from the year of 1608 // History and archeology. 2014. № 12 [Electronic journal]. URL: https://history.snauka.ru/en/2014/12/1366

View this article in Russian

The book in the form in which modern man is experiencing it, has appeared during the Middle Ages and is closely linked to the development of printing. The study of the historical development of the book was improved, during the 17th and 18th century, by collectors and bibliophiles as well as by increased demand for the books. Procreation of cabinets for rare objects and libraries which became significant, leads to production of catalogs and of monographic studies dealing with production in renowned printing offices. Lucien Febvre and Henri-Jean Martin have changed the essential manner of our viewing on the history of the books. According to them a history of book development should be seen through its involvement within social History, which relates to all aspects of life [1, p. 85-88].

The study of book development is in correspondence with the history of printing, and the first association evokes Gutenberg and his invention of printing presses. Consequently, the name of Gutenberg’s become, in some respects, synonymous with the term for book and printing at the same time. And amongst the Serbian nation, was long been known for the contrivance of Gutenberg. Thus in one old manuscript from monastery Zupa Niksicka, stands that “од домишлениа књиге штамповати” from the year of 1715 there is 275 years [6].

The modernity of the late middle Ages and reproducing of books and documents of all sorts leads to better understanding in the process of book writing. According to F. Barbie tree different categories represent that structure: 1) striving for specialization; 2) а contrario, inevitably a simplification; 3) book can become an object of social extraction, and society’s emphasis. Considering the specialization, many books now emerged among the new scholars, and all that leads toward occurring a new form of handwriting which becomes much faster, and also different acronyms and a usage of paper. Written texts and books now more and more enters the wider audience, not very big in size, nevertheless the one who is rising. During that process a language that is used in a book now becomes more            comprehensible to the masses, because those books have been published on people common languages. Since the 12th and especially during 13th century very large reproduction is developing in the secular scriptoriums, which were in towns and had been working in the name of        the court and elite public figures who loved novels and historical tales. The Gutenberg’s discovery marks the “book revolution” in the middle of the 15th century, but also the significance of earlier changes cannot be forgotten, which brought the term of “scribal Renaissance”, which highlight happened in the 13th century. It was the time of great book production, application of intellectual curiosity and different artistic forms.

Due to the increased demand, universities were the first to establish an original system of book multiplication:  peace. A special commission was checking the text quality of the refereeing manuscript (exemplar), and after that it was administered to a specialist for books. Parts of the exemplars were entrusted to some students or professional scrivener, so several scribes could, at the same time, make more copies.  When in terms of the paper, it was discovered in China, and trough Arabs have come to the offices on Sicily in the late 11th century, while in Genovese scribes it was known since the 12th century. Fabriano paper workshops were well known to be, since the 13th century, center for technical innovations. Paper production starts in, since 1400, Basel, Alsace, Nurnberg, Chemnitz and on the lower Rhine. Paper as a basis for writing was less expensive up to ten times compared to parchment, and in the future demonstrated to be very useful for printing methods [1, p. 96-102].

On the eve of Gutenberg’s invention, in the early 15th century this contraption was on the verge of entering the light of day. In Prague, Constance, Nurnberg, Rhine valley, Harlem and Avignon, inventors are working on improvement for applying different techniques: paper production, mirrors making, gemstones polishing, new method for text multiplication, engraving techniques etc. Technician Waldfogel, silver smelter, was one of the main figures who participated in creation of printing presses. He made a business deal, as scribe official Jacques de Bried noted, with a locksmith  Girard Feros from Trier diocese. The last one very well knew the “mechanical writing”, so he pledged himself not to train someone within twelve miles surrounding the city. In Low Countries also, attempts were made on improving printing techniques, and there is a document been preserved where Jean Le Robert, abbot of St. Obera in Kambreu, 1455, orders a book from Brigue, in such manner that we can conclude that they had been manufactured with the technique of imprints [1, p. 102].

Older news concerning  Gutenbergs’s printing office and a description of his epochal discovery, as described by humanistic works,  represent a curiosity for researchers in book history. A valuable account of Gutenberg’s discovery comes from a humanist Franz Guilliman (1568-1612) [3, p. 299] in his book “History of Strasbourg bishops”, printed in Freiburg, Germany, in the year of 1608 [4]. If we compare this data with one, an undoubtedly more important fact in printing history, which comes from hronique of Cologne from Ulrich Cel from 1499, we will realize, that during the age of humanism, it has been known for printing even before Gutenberg, so we question the origins of printing itself [1].

Raiden’s history of bishops, one of his main works and it is also a representative work  for the history of Catholic reforms. Author of the book made it to be a part of the setting considering time and space and also the spirit of Catholic reformation. Through history of this ancient bishopric of Strasbourg he imposes upon his readers the importance of continuity and foundations of the Catholic Church in the town in whom, during the first half of 16TH century, reformation took on and won. He opposed hard arguments upon those men who introduced “novelties” and disturbed Eclecsical order, and who were the majority of the time in Strasbourg. The idea which absolutely dominates in this book is the one where the glorification of important figures in the Catholic Church is a must, in a time when that institution was shaken by reformers. “History of Strasbourg bishops” is published in Latin and it has 320 pages, it was printed in Freiburg, 1608 [7, p. 281].

A work of Raiden in the translation of the title is: “Of Strasbourg bishops, history is dedicated to reverend and most sacred Leopold, Archduke of Austria, and a bishop of Strasbourg and Passau” [5, p. 44]. Him as the official historian of the house of Habzburgs, in the title of his book, devoted an inscription to Leopold as one of the most renown representatives of the family at the time  [4]. The Archduke of Austria, Leopold V Ferdinand, was a bishop in Passsau for a while then he moved to Strasbourg, both these towns had the oldest catholic bishoprics in the region. The son of archduke Carlo II (1540-1590), a grandson of Imperator Ferdinand I (1556-1564) and the youngest brother of emperor Ferdinand II (1619-1637), as such he was in favor of the emperor Roudolf II who planned for a time to appoint him for his ear.  Without a monastic rank, he becomes a bishop of Passau in 1598 and in 1607 for a bishop of Strasbourg, where he remained on duty until the year of 1626. Reason for which Guilliman starts his research of Alsace is his view on the importance of the region throughout European history. Guilliman has definitely had interests in new areas, which could give a researcher a chance to truly get to know the essence of specific processes of history and civilization movements, through whose processing came to light the causes for hole historical processes. It’s about the territory which separates two great European civilizations, German and French. Guilliman recognizes the importance and symbolism of this region and its ability to represent a good field for European research and in doing so, also can help in understanding the history of printing development [4].

The book consists of two main parts, first examines the history of the foundation of Strasbourg, [2, p. 11-14] who was written in ten chapters. The town played a significant role in the time of the Merovingians and Carolings, and the main subject is the spread of Christianity in Alsace, and also first Christian missionaries who were spreading Christendom on this territory. It is the time of the foundation of the diocese as an important center of consolidation of Christianity among the German tribes. In those days first monastic communities were established in the area of Alsace [4, p. 26].

The book “History of Strasbourg bishops”, by its conception is beyond the scope of basic themes, according to information provided by the author. In his book, he gave us, through the role of Strasbourg bishops in the history of Europe, a description of a large number of historical events during the medieval period. Of particular value is the fact that the book describes the discovery of the Gutenberg press, and Guilliman referred him as the resident of Strasbourg. He refers to the work of the  reformist historian  Jakob Vimpfeling, who mentions among others that, at the the time, a resident of Strasburg, Johan Genflais, called Gutenberg, revealed, “although incomplete,” but a very important skill of printing. Guilliman emphasized that Gutenberg was a resident of of Strasbourg, which is a historical fact, because it’s known that he worked as a technician and smith in Strasbourg, during the time between 1434 and 1444. Here he seems to be mastered the technique of printing with movable letters. In the year of 1438 he and tree others men from Strasbourg become partners in order to produce mirrors into cast molds and then sell those to pilgrims in the town of Ahen. [4, p. 425].

This kind of production necessitated obtaining the knowledge about metal smelting which leaded to movable letters printing technique. From the same period, there is an account in the documents, in autumn of 1438, on one of their deals, which was strictly held secret, so there is doubt that it is related to the matters of printing [2, p. 41-42].  In the year of the 1448 Gutenberg went back to Mainz and get in touch with a  few other printers who used the same technique under the leadership of a certain person called Johan Fust, who used it to print the first printed Bible which is assumed to be appearing in 1455. In Mainz, Gutenberg technique was mastered completely, as Raiden informs us that was “everlasting merit of German nation”.


Guilliman also gave us the source of his claim considering the year of Gutenberg’s invention of printing, he found it  “In a short statement of Germanic history”, where stands that in the year of 1440, during the reign of Roman Imperator Fridrih III (1440-1493), something big and important for the whole of the world was discovered, that Johan Gutenberg from Strasbourg “discovered a new way of writing, in fact he invented printing”. Based upon his researches, Raiden claims that Gutenberg made the discovery in Strasbourg, and later moved to Mainz, and successfully improved his technique. Guilliman’s review on Gutenberg’s printing office bring us one dilemma. Whether he with his claim, that the discovery actually happened in Strasbourg, wants to emphasize the significance of this town during that period, which is to be to benefit to his history of Strasbourg bishops and its subject theme altogether? However, he is precisely naming his sources according to which that claim is set forth and other contemporary works also deal with this issue. According to that Guilliman’s claim was well based, it is a part of the mosaic in which historiography tries to put all the pieces, in its attempt to shed light on this epochal discovery [4, p. 425-426].

The interpretation of Guilliman’s claim concerning Gutenberg’s revelation on printing, tell us that the facts he is using are historically accurate. Chronology of events presented by Guilliman corresponds to the chronological scale of modern historiography. Gutenberg was born in 1400 as a son of a nobleman and a trader Fril Genflais in Mainz, where he also dies in February 3th, 1468. Latter on, by the custom of the day, he changed his name according to the name of his family seat “Gutenberg’s residence”. One of the most important episodes during his life is the one when he makes the deal with the rich trader Johan Fust, who invests in his project 600 guldens with a 6% interest rate. So they founded the first printing office, where this new technique could be applied. It is considered to be, that the printing of a Bible was their first job, called Bible in 30 lines, because of the lesser number of lines on page, and a greater number of sheets. Nevertheless, this was not the first known printed work by Gutenberg. He and his associates, were earning their money on printing books for learning Latin. After the dispute considering the share of profits from printing, partnership fell apart. The commercial success of the Gutenberg project couldn’t justify enormous investments in it. In business books there is an account on November 5th , 1455, about the partners exact dispute. Fust lent the money in the amount of 1.550 florins for book printing, but a part of that sum was spent on other uses, so Fust demanded repayment. Because Gutenberg couldn’t repay his amends,  partnership company is dissolved. However, Gutenberg managed to secure for himself a part of their materials and was able to continue the work in Mainz, so it’s presumed that in 1460, he published Balbus Catholicon. After the town of Mainz was seized by Adolf of Nassau in 1462, Gutenberg opened his office in Etvile. Gutenberg died in his hometown Mainz on February 3th, 1468, and he was buried in the Franciscan monastery. Most important part of Gutenberg’s discovery wasn’t printing press itself, but instead the machine for letter casting and smelting technique which allow all that to happen. Also, the main innovation is the possibility of serial production of standardized letters. Principle of linear analyses is applied which follows alphabetical order and with a limited number of elements give countless combinations. The printing press was known also in earlier times, but the Gutenberg one was improved, and on it horizontal and vertical movement could be applied. Gutenberg technique remained unchanged until the industrial revolution in the second part of the 18th century [1, p. 104-108].

The interesting fact is that his ex-partners Fust and Shefer took over his office in Mainz and reopened it under the name of  “Zum Humbrecht”. They were the first printers who had their own typographic address, while the published works of Gutenberg had none, either date or address. They published in 1457, Psalter of Mainz, the first book which had dated on it, and after that published Bible in 48-lines, in 1462, and the work of Ciceron’s “De Officiis” in 1465. After the death of Fust, 1466, Shefer continued printing for a while, and then turn his attention only on printing equipment and selling other’s people’s publications. [1, p. 108-110].

Gutenberg’s invention was a turning point, it changed the course of civilization, and added new power for development of humanism. Thanks to this improved technique of printing, the epoch of the time will leave behind masterpieces of culture and science, which will lead Europe into one new phase of development. So Guilliman highlights that Gutenberg discovered in Strasbourg “genius masterpiece for the whole of world”. Story of Gutenberg and his finding remains ongoing up to the present day and every new information concerning this momentous event is valuable for everyone who had interests in history related to books and printed word. That is the reason why is this work of Franz Guilliman “History of Argentinian bishops” so interesting. Through it we can understand the essence of of Gutenberg’s discovery in a time of late humanism, when printed books were in full momentum, and consequently collectors and bibliophiles are also there to study the development of printed books.

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