The Medieval Mind: The Machine That Made Us (2008)

by Stephen Fry. BBC

Stephen Fry , presenter
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Date Added: 12 years ago.

Documentary Description

The Medieval Mind: The Machine That Made Us

In this revealing documentary, Stephen Fry investigates the story of one of the most important machines ever invented - the Gutenberg Press.

The printing press was the world's first mass-production machine. Its invention in the 1450s changed the world as dramatically as splitting the atom or sending men into space, sparking a cultural revolution that shaped the modern age. It is the machine that made us who we are today.

Stephen's investigation combines historical detective work and a hands-on challenge. He travels to France and Germany on the trail of Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of the printing press and early media entrepreneur. Along the way he discovers the lengths Gutenberg went to keep his project secret, explores the role of avaricious investors and unscrupulous competitors, and discovers why printing mattered so much in medieval Europe.

But to really understand the man and his machine, Stephen gets his hands dirty - assembling a team of craftsmen and helping them build a working replica of Gutenberg's original press. He learns how to make paper the 15th-century way and works as an apprentice in a metal foundry in preparation for the experiment to put the replica press through its paces. Can Stephen's modern-day team match the achievement of Gutenberg's medieval craftsmen?

Source: BBC

What Did Gutenberg Invent? - Gutenberg The Man

Gutenberg was a goldsmith from Mainz who never signed his work. But what do we know about the man and his life?

Reconstruction of Gutenberg walking down corridorTheories abound as to his life. Some historians speculate that he was a brilliant inventor who died penniless, and others believe he was eventually rewarded by the Archbishop of Mainz and carried on printing until his death.

Paul and Blaise believe that Gutenberg saw his talents as a divine gift, so it wasn't for him to sign his work, there being a more powerful Creator behind it.

Around 1430 Gutenberg left Mainz for Strasbourg where he was involved in a number of activities that show him as a bit of an entrepreneur. He was paid to teach people the art of polishing semi-precious gemstones. He was also in partnership with men who produced tokens to be used during pilgrimage.


Hand holding religious tockenFinancial and legal records are the only way of tracking Gutenberg. They show that he was part of a group that disputed his father's will around 1420. He drew a form of life insurance payment from the city of Mainz, but there were problems over that, and he was sent into exile for political/economic reasons. There are tax records to show how much he paid for wine in Strasbourg. He was sued by a woman who claimed that he had promised to marry her. But very little is known about his printing press as there are no records. The invention itself did not form part of taxable income, so it does not appear in taxation records.

The most significant record is a court document that records a dispute between Gutenberg and his business partner over the huge amount of money required for his printing press. Another document, dated just after Gutenberg's death in February 1468, is from a powerful citizen who recorded that he was then in possession of type and other equipment left at Gutenberg's death.

Q. Why was the first book printed a Bible?

You may quite legitimately be thinking 'Why not?' In a culture where atheism was virtually inconceivable and Christianity considered to be the only true religion, the Bible seems an obvious choice. But most people, including the clergy, did not own Bibles; their main knowledge of the Bible came from sermons and from extracts used in church services.

Far more common was the 'Book of Hours', a handbook of daily prayers. The size and sumptuous quality of the Bible shows that Gutenberg was making claims for the status of his invention, that it was every bit as prestigious as a lavishly illustrated manuscript. The future of print may have lain in mass production, but Gutenberg did not want to make his mark with something pitched at the mass market. If he had wanted to do that he would have produced a 'Book of Hours'.


History of the Printing Press

During the 17th and 18th centuries there was a new interest in learning. Printing began to become very important as a means of communicating new ideas and discoveries.

The growth of newspapers played an important part in the expansion of the printing industry. Printers had been using wooden printing presses for 350 years, ever since Gutenberg produced his first printed sheet. With the tremendous demand for newspapers and other printed material towards the end of the 18th century, it was no longer possible to go on using the wooden printing presses.

In 1803, Earl Stanhope introduced the first hand press with an iron frame. It was stronger and more efficient than a wooden press and rapidly replaced it. The Columbian and Albion were two other iron presses used in the early 19th century.

As new technical changes continued, the small craftsmen's workshops disappeared. They gave way to noisy factories housing bigger and faster machines, driven by steam engines.

The 10-feeder press, so called because 10 men could feed paper into it at once, was installed by The Times newspaper in 1861 to meet still greater demands for newspapers. Ten rollers inked the type, which was on a cylinder in the middle of the machine. The press could print 1,000 sheets in an hour. By the end of the century even more efficient machinery could print 30,000 to 40,000 copies an hour.

Small printing presses - known as parlour presses - were introduced In Victorian times, when printing became a hobby.

The Old Printing Shop has a vast collection of early printing presses. The earliest printing press is the "Stanhope" which was the first iron press dated 1805. We also have Columbian Albions (standing and table top), Brittania and Atlas. Additionally we have foot treadles and an array of small hand platens. We are hoping these printing presses will be used by any person with an interest in printing, or graphics, throughout the world.

We would like these presses to be housed in a working museum and would welcome ideas and suggestions by interested parties.



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