Gutenberg’s Innovations

Some links (mostly for images). By John.

Gutenberg invented the Printing press?

Bi Sheng – 11th Century – Porcelain, Wood

Wang Zhen – 14th Century – Wood, typecases


In more recent times [late 13th century], type has also been made of tin by casting. It is strung on an iron wire, and thus made fast in the columns of the form, in order to print books with it. But none of this type took ink readily, and it made untidy printing in most cases. For that reason they were not used long.[15] – Wang Zhen, quoted in Wikipedia page

Gutenberg’s developments:

  • punch-cutting system & mass-production of interchangeable letters

(except maybe not: Blaise Agüera y Arcas and Paul Needham (2001) said sand-casting.)

  • adaptation of winepress, via a soft mat

  • oil-based ink

An inventor? An engineer? A businessman?

Fust & Schoffer

Last thoughts:


An early recipe for parchment. 

Here are some examples of watermarks and chain-lines.

A few notes on paper-making:

Medieval European paper-making was cheaper than vellum, but still labour-intensive:

This was the method that endured until something really important happened in the 19th century. The cost of paper informed all kinds of things, from the aesthetics of letter-writing to the spread of literacy.


So which came first: the rise of mass literacy or the technological capacity to mass print books?

Has the development of cheap printed materials been driven by technological innovation, cultural shifts, or political changes that allowed for heightened resource extraction?

Did the rise of mass literacy require colonization?