Lusophone Association of Gutenberg's Knights


Dear Ladies and Gentlemen

Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg
A symbol belonging to the “academy of the immortals” His name and legacy is recognized by Humanity.
This year, on February 3, the 550th anniversary of Gutenberg’s death is celebrated
As a “typographer”, unpretentiously, I intend to pay my tribute, bearing the ‘professional reputation’ in common.

Today, I have the honourable privilege of dedicating my speech to his memory… and I will try to content those who listen to me, despite my limitations and lack of time. It is exciting to talk about Gutenberg. However, it implies to consider the prodigious importance of his character and the undeniable projection of his ‘prophetic’ contribution that propelled the civilizational development of human society: the PRESS. Being risky and ungrateful, it must be summarized. I confine myself to a few topics and simple language to help remembering the universal proto-typographer, to whom we owe the merit of being here…
With some daring, of which I am penitent, I suggest that together we turn to the historical knowledge that we have of him. And let us dwell on some biographical data, perhaps unclear or already forgotten.

Gutenberg was born in the German town of Mainz between 1394 and 1399, most probably in 1397, on June 24, the Feast of St. John. That is why he was baptized with the name of the holy forerunner of Christ. His parents Friel zur Laden zum Gutenberg (+1419), and Else Wirich zun Steinen Krame (+1433). Henne (John) was the couple's third child.

As a young man with extraordinary imagination, he designed and created original pieces of jewellery. For that the nobility inside and outside Mainz hold him in great consideration; on the other hand, and paradoxically, he enjoyed the esteem of the popular society, due to his ‘sociable’ personality because ‘he embraced the pride of the nobleman and the enthusiasm of the craftsman.’

But in 1423 the two brothers, being unsafe, went to Strasbourg, leaving in Mainz their mother and their sister Else (II), whose daughter (the 4th Else of the family), came to be the heiress of uncle Henne Gutenberg.

Why emigrating and to Strasbourg?

The socio-political climate of Mainz was unstable. The popular revolts threatened the nobility. Those who could, emigrated.
Strasbourg was a peaceful and cosmopolitan city in direct dependence of the Emperor.
On his way to Strasbourg, he rested for a few days in Haarlem. He met the sacristan of the Cathedral (Laurens Janszoon Coster). He was amazed by his ability to engrave woodcut, carving images for stamping and using stamps with loose letters to expedite the work of copyists in the workshops of writers …
Whether he had picked up the idea in Haarlem, or further clarified the concept, of doing what his fertile imagination had suggested: - to carve all letters equal to those of the manuscripts, but in great quantity and so that they were used to ‘write without pen or ink’…

Of his first 'typographic' experiences using mobile characters, little is known, since he worked alone and in secret, first in the city and then in the refuge in the Monastery of Saint Arbogast, on the outskirts of Strasbourg. There is no doubt, however, that the first types were made of wood.
This isolation in the foreign land, allowed Gutenberg to devote himself freely to the technology of ‘artificial writing’: - by hand-drawing the individual design of each alphabetic symbol - letters and other graphics of the handwriting; carving the steel punches in order to nail the copper matrices to obtain the moving characters by casting liquid metal, by filling the mold where the type was made.

It was necessary to produce in large quantity and conveniently, since it was essential to standardize the dimensions (body size) and to vary the thickness (width) of each type, because i is not an A nor a W.
The set of these concepts are of intellectual and artistic wealth.
In the city of Strasbourg, the mint was a reference. With the mastery of technique of coinage and minting, Gutenberg succeeds in performing, stage by stage, the entire ‘typographic’ production circuit (that is, from the design-punches-matrices-moulds or forms and using a furnace with boiler or crucible for metal casting).

He gathered the necessary conditions, means and instruments, to obtain (compose and print) the first non-manuscript productions: Bulls of Indulgence and the Latin Grammar (Donatus).
It should be noted that in the wineries of the Monastery of Saint Arbogast there were many presses to squeeze the grapes and make wine. The press would have to be adapted with a flat horizontal plane. It was the irreplaceable equipment with which the graphics were transferred to the support (paper or parchment). This is the origin of the term: press.

From 1434, he found in the city the collaborators up to the task, such as carpenter, mechanic and turner Conrad Saspach who, following his guidance, built the first press. He convinced a goldsmith engraver named Dünne to sculpt the letters into steel punches to obtain matrices that gave origin to lead types.

To speak of Gutenberg necessarily implies alluding to his work.
The task of carrying out the venture could seem utopian. Gutenberg did not have the economic resources and the task of obtaining them was arduous. He secured funding through the creation of a ‘partnership’ to cope with the considerable expenses at the beginning – Andreas Dritzehen, Hans Riffe and Andreas Heilmann entered into partnership with capital.

On the other hand, Gutenberg was obliged to reveal to the partners some important secrets that would serve as a basis for hope in lucrative profits for investors. This first company was registered under the name of ‘Society for the improvement of mirror-making method’ …
The wealthy Andreas Dritzehen was not just a speculator, for he was engaged in the ‘discovery’ of the method of ‘artificial writing’. He did not share the contrary opinion of his brother Nicholas, for whom this was the subject for goldsmiths and illuminators miniaturists, who foreseen gains: for ones it was with the multiplication of the types made of metal alloy; for the others, with the increase of requests to illustrate the printed pages…

In a short time, the workshop set up with all the secrecy in the Monastery of Saint Arbogast, was able to emerge in the light of day and settle in the city. It was set in the house of the partner Andreas. But he died shortly thereafter and Nicholas, the only brother and heir, demanded the return of the loan, what was impossible for Gutenberg.
The case went to court; and given the decapitalization of the company and that the anticipated profits had not materialized, the judges sentenced that Gutenberg was to repay a part of the borrowed money, whether he had it or not.
However, what is most important in this judicial process, is that in the inventory of goods, for the evaluation of stocks (and all the estate), for the first time appear the words presses, forms, molds, instruments and tools, key components of the printing activity, this allows us to establish precisely the time when the combination of this specific equipment began to be used. And, indicating time, and place.
Gutenberg left Strasbourg in 1443, or at most, in 1444, for this year, his name still appears on the register of taxpayers. It is certain that he was in Mainz in 1448, but it is unknown where he spent the interim four years.

At that time his niece was residing in Gutenberg’s palace, he rented a house to live in and installed in the palace the equipment and accessories he had been able to save and transport from Strasbourg, as well as everything he had been buying and producing.

The typographic activity in Mainz began surely before 1448; the delay is justified because of the difficulty in finding the financial subsidies to ensure a sustainable and promising restart. Without departing from his objectives, he established himself constituting a new Society, with the support of the goldsmith-banker Johann Fust (born in Mainz in 1410 and dead in Paris in 1466) who financed the enterprise of his fellow countryman, whose father had been a friend.

By 1449 Gutenberg's typography had reached a high level of perfection, this sharpened the greed and gave tranquillity to the ambitious partner, who was waiting for the profitability of his money.
However, in the same year in which the printing of the most famous book, the 42-line Bible, was completed, the rupture of society took place. Fust, supported by his collaborator (excellent letter designer and jeweller) Peter Schöffer, wanted to eliminate the typographer ‘working partner’. He should not want to share with him the profits that would derive from the sale of the monumental work and other works already produced and in the process of being completed. Therefore, he forced the termination of the contract in court, demanding the return of capital to the lender and the interest.

Upon proving Gutenberg’s incapacity to ensure the repayment of such high sum, the Court ruled that the Author should be compensated by the transfer of the ownership of the facilities and all equipment, works in progress, raw materials, paper… the characters produced and even - this was the motive of the usurer - all the copies of the Bible that the illuminator Kremer had ‘illuminated’. In other words: everything went to the name of the complainant. And so he ended up losing it all, our Gutenberg.
Notwithstanding this defeat and the bitterness of the expropriations that left him with nothing, Gutenberg proved that it is the will of the man that rules life and once again, he resisted the ordeal.
He did not give up his goals. He struggled and resumed his activity, reconstructing typography with the financial support of the powerful Dr. Conrad Humery, later the ‘burgomaster’ of Mainz, who selflessly appreciated the talented Gutenberg and the merit of his work.
Notwithstanding the vicissitudes and politically disastrous events that affected the population, especially in 1461 and 62, the new typographic workshop that was gradually installed and equipped, was productive and profitable until 1465.
In the early 1460s the litigation was over with the deposition of Archbishop Diether von Isenburg and the seizure of the city by the elector Archbishop Adolf of Nassau who confiscated Gensfleich palace. However, with the frustration and debilitation that weakened his health, Gutenberg almost lost his sight and was reducing the intensity of direct work.
In an act of recognition and admiration for Gutenberg and his work, the Archbishop not only reserved an apartment to him to inhabit in the Palace but also given him the title of Hofmann (Gentleman of the court), and a well-deserved and dignified pension.
Gutenberg died and was buried in St Francis Church in his homeland. This Church was demolished in 1742, Adam Gelthus ordered to affix a tombstone with the following inscription:


A. Guilhermino Pires
Porto, 22 de june de 2018

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