His Life


Page 3 of 3



We have no idea what Gutenberg did between 1444 and 1448. The sources seem to imply that he had already experimented with letterpress printing in Strassburg. However, only on 17 October 1448 was his presence in Mainz verifiable. On this day he borrowed 150 guilders from his cousin Arnold Gelthus. He also looked for additional backers such as Johannes Fust, a merchant of Mainz.

Ekbert von Schönau: Orate respice, domine sancte pater.
University Library Munich, Cim 96

Fust lent Gutenberg 800 guilders without charging interest and in return received the equipment purchased with the money as security. Around 1450 Gutenberg's experiments had reached the stage that he was able to print broadsides and more extensive books. These included indulgences, calendars and dictionaries.

Biografie Teil 1

Chapter Helmasperger's Instrument



In 1452 Fust again lent Gutenberg 800 guilders. This money was specifically destined for the "Work of the Books", the printing of the 42-line Bible (B42). Shortly before the printing of the Bible was completed, Fust and Gutenberg quarrelled. In 1455 Fust accused Gutenberg of misappropriating the funds destined exclusively for the printing of the Bible for other printing projects. Gutenberg lost the ensuing legal proceedings and had to hand over his entire workshop and half of the Bibles to Fust. The Helmasperger Instrument by the notary of the same name provides information about this case. After this dispute and its resolution, Fust headed the workshop with the assistence of a former journeyman of Gutenberg's named Peter Schöffer. The workshop was successful. Gutenberg himself worked thereafter in a small printing shop.



In January 1465 Gutenberg experienced a certain redress in the matter thanks to Adolf von Nassau. The officiating bishop of Mainz commended Gutenberg's acomplishments in a letter, appointed him to the function of a courtier and also granted him some material compensation.

"Johann Gudenberg" . Letter of appointment (detail)

From this time on, once a year in Mainz Gutenberg was given courtier's clothes along with 2180 liters of grain and 2000 liters of wine. In this way Gutenberg spent the last years of his life in socially and financially secure circumstances. He died on 3 February 1468 in Mainz.

Letter of appointment to the function of a courtier,
17. 1. 1465
State Archive Würzburg