Friday, May 14, 2010

Read any good books lately?

...........if so, and they weren't on one of those trendy Kindle thingies, then you can thank Johannes Gutenberg - the most famous former resident of Mainz.  Last weekend we ventured west to the nearby city of Mainz to visit the birthplace of the inventor of the printing press.  There is a fabulous museum dedicated to Gutenberg which features a demonstration of his invention (circa 1439), a history of this man, a collection of old books printed in the 15th - 17th centuries, a sampling of different printing machines throughout history, samplings of the art of engraving and woodcutting for printing, as well as a vaulted room with the most valued of his famous Gutenberg Bibles.

     Basically, before Gutenberg, any books had to be hand-written which means that they were scarce, expensive, and unavailable to the common man.  With the advent of the press, books were able to be copied quickly and ideas were able to be spread rapidly throughout the world.  In Gutenberg's day, however, most people made copies of the Bible in latin for use in churches that could afford to buy them.  It would still be quite some time before the middle-class and working-class people would have complete access to books.  Besides the Bible, scientific thoughts were also able to be passed around, which was a huge factor in the Renaissance period.  It was really neat to see the impressive artwork and skill that went into early printing and to consider how much time it took to include an illustration in a book back then.  One of the most interesting pieces to me was a huge book with a handmade wooden cover that had a large chain attached to it with a ring at the end.  Apparently there were libraries that kept books on a table where all of the books were chained to an iron rod so that they wouldn't be stolen.  My have the times changed!
Gutenberg invented the moveable-type printing, allowing the arrangement of multiple pages and the re-use of letters.

     Often I think we tend to overlook the impact that something like the printing press really had on society.  It's easy to take for granted when we are moving towards the digitalization of all information.  I mean, who wants to go and buy a book when you can download it onto the Kindle for a fraction of the price of the printed version and not have to deal with storage?  I must admit that I'm still on the fence about the Kindle because I do like to hold a book in my hands and gauge my progress at a glance and have the smell of the pages and cover art and all that goes into a book - but my curiosity is also peaking at the thought of having that kind of access to books and not have the problem of storage.
Gutenberg himself

Mainz, Germany
This girl makes those flowers look good!
Nice little reconstructed old part of the city - right across from the first gun store that I've found in this country
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