Print’s history: Trivia time – The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column

By 04 Nov 2017

Print trivia, by all account, tells us quite a lot about the history of print.

If you were present at the PrintWeek India Awards Night 2017 on 2 November, you would have received a small booklet which shared trivia about the History of Printing in Mumbai (Bombay then). Like many things in print, it’s a fun diversion. And like many things about print, we need to preserve it. Setting up a Print Museum in Mumbai is one of our endeavours.

In this Sunday Column, we have dug up ten


Q 1. Everyone knows Johannes Gutenberg developed the movable type. What is the name of his financier?

Q 2. We know that a German blacksmith named Johannes Gutenberg invented a new system of movable-type printing. What did the movable type do?

Q 3. The Western world's first major printed books was the Bible? How many lines did it have?

Q 4. In addition to the Bible, there is one other book that Gutenberg is credit for. What is it?

Q 5. What was the unusual thing about the Psalter?

Q 6. What happened five hundred years ago on 1 November?

Q 7. Martin Luther’s "95 Theses" was posted where?

Q 8. Why was the printing press considered a revolutionary technology in Martin Luther's time?

Q 9. Wittenberg printers published, on average, just eight books annually, all in Latin and aimed at local university audiences. What happened five hundred years ago in 1517 up to Luther’s death in 1546?

Q 10. In 1796 there was a German actor and a German playwright whose father was also a theatrewallah. Why is this man important?


A1. Johann Fust. Gutenberg borrowed 800 guilders from financier Johann Fust to purchase tools and equipment. In 1452, Gutenberg was in debt and not able to pay Fust’s loan. A new agreement was inked and Fust was now a partner in Gutenberg’s business. By 1455, Gutenberg was unable to pay the debt and Johann Fust controlled all business rights.

A2. It allowed the reproduction of the written word at greater speeds and lower costs than the laborious and less-durable woodblock approach. And so, in 1455, the Gutenberg Bible was printed at a rate of 200 pages per day, significantly more than the 30 pages per day that a well-trained scribe could produce.

A3. Forty Two lines. It was known as the “Forty-Two-Line” Bible.

A4. The book of Psalms called the Psalter which was decorated with hundreds of two-colour initial letters and delicate scroll borders using a method based on multiple inking on a single metal block.

A5. The Psalter was the first book to display the name of its printers, Johann Fust and Peter Schoffer.

A6. Five hundred years ago on 1 November, a relatively unknown priest and university lecturer in theology nailed a printed petition to a door, demanding an academic debate on the Catholic Church’s practice of selling “indulgences” – promises that the buyer or a relative would spend less time in purgatory after they died. His name was Martin Luther.

A7. At the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.

A8. By Luther’s time, the daily printing rate of a single press had increased to roughly 1,500 single-sided sheets. Improved printing efficiency, combined with steep declines in cost, led to a dramatic increase in access to the written word between 1450 and 1500. More than 100,000 copies of the "Luther Bible" were printed in Wittenberg over the following decades, compared to 180 copies of the Latin Gutenberg Bible.

A9. The local publishers “turned out at least 2,721 works” – and average of “91 books per year,” representing some three million individual copies.

A10.  Because his name is Johann Alois Senefelder and he invented the printing technique of lithography.






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