Station: [20] Printing Press and Goodbye

We’ve arrived at the end of our tour – and now find ourselves back at the beginning....

... where we’re going to take another look back at history. Because what would the book of books be, what would Luther's Bible translation be, without a way to reproduce it? Without the ground-breaking invention of printing with movable type?

A little less than a century before Luther, Johannes Gutenberg had developed letterpress printing in Mainz. Printing techniques already existed. But Gutenberg's stroke of genius was to use lead alloy to cast individual, recyclable letters that could be combined, printed ... and broken down again after printing.

He wanted to produce a printed book that looked as if a highly skilled scribe had written it by hand. To achieve that, he designed several versions of each letter in different widths. For example, an A, B, M or N, could be narrower or wider. His system comprised 290 characters. The art of the typesetter consisted of arranging the letters on a line in such a way that the spacing was harmonious and the lines could be assembled to form a justified text.

These days, on a computer, it takes just a single click. Gutenberg had to artfully arrange some 2,000 individual letters on a printing block called a forme – back to front, of course! – and clamp that forme into a converted wine press. Sitting on rails at the bottom of the press is the bed. Next, the letters are inked with leather pads. The sheet of paper to be printed is clamped to the inside of the hinged lid. When the lid is closed, the paper sits right on top of the inked type. Since the bed is movable, the whole can now be rolled under the press (in other words, the platen with a screw operated by the long handle). 

Once the handle has been operated, you roll back the bed -- and there’s the page for your book, your flyer, or your news sheet!

The Bible printed by Gutenberg between 1452 and 1454 was still in Latin. But thanks to letterpress printing, and its rapid development, the Bible in the vernacular languages was soon being distributed throughout Europe in record time. 

Letterpress printing was not only an inexpensive means of reproduction; it also laid the foundation for the intellectual, political and religious changes that took place over the following centuries.

Without Gutenberg's invention there would have been no Reformation / no general public education / no Enlightenment / no newspapers / no computers /.
You might even say: Without Gutenberg's invention, there would have been no Bible Gallery....

But sadly, all things come to an end ... including our tour. So we’ll just say:

Thank you for listening!

And goodbye!

We hope you’ve enjoyed your visit.

Do come and see us again soon, here at

The Meersburg Bible Gallery – the
Bible experience museum on Lake Constance!

All depictions: © Bibelgalerie Meersburg