See Stephen Fry build a wooden press using only technologies available in the 15th century, so that he can print one replica page of the Gutenberg Bible. This film is almost an hour long, but it is worth the time: he’s such a likable presenter.

Now while it is probably true that Gutenberg did indeed build (or arrange to have built) his own press in the way Stephen Fry’s collaborators do here, this was not Gutenberg’s invention. Printing presses existed before his day, so the idea of inspiration illuminating the Gutebergian mind as he visited a vineyard is a pleasant fiction. We knew fine how to build a printing press long before Gutenberg’s time. What Gutenberg did invent was the casting of single pieces of reusable metal type from which pages could be assembled and printed. That was a revolutionary efficiency gain and enabled an industry to take off: in spite of Mr Fry’s lyrical tributes, however, it was not the first time multiple identical copies had been available.

Stan Nelson, the type cutter and caster who appears in Stephen Fry’s film, was featured in my earlier posts, Punchcutting and Casting type by hand,where there  are videos looking at this, the true Gutenbergian breakthrough, in more detail.

Link to the Fry video via The Scholarly Kitchen.

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