Fortunately “the press” referred to here is not a bunch of scandal-mongering journalists — common sentiment has them coming from the other direction — it’s an actual wooden printing press being drone-dropped by the Spirit of Printing to an eagerly anticipating European world. Germany sits above the others at the left ready to hand the machine off to Johannes Gutenberg straight away. The Netherlands lounges below her. Britain sits next with Italy and France to her left. Each of the national ladies holds lozenges with portraits of their most notable early printers on them. This is the inspiring frontispiece to Prosper Marchand’s Histoire de l’origine et des premiers progrès de l’imprimerie (The Hague 1740).
Well, the press had actually been around for a while before Minerva and Mercury accompanied this one down into Germany’s and Mr Gutenberg’s hands. It is true, I guess, that the Spirit of Printing is surrounded by a cloud of letters and does seem to be holding a composing stick in her left hand. This stick is in fact emblematic of Gutenberg’s real invention; movable type — or as Keith Houston insists in an extract from his recent book, The Book, movable type that really worked. Go to I love typography to find this extract.