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The sorry tale of Gutenberg and Fust: 1450-1457

When Gutenberg accepts a loan of 800 guilders in 1450 from Johann Fust, a rich burgher in Mainz, pledging his printing equipment as security, he is no doubt delighted to be able to continue his experiments in an exciting new craft. But the relationship is one which will bring him disaster.

In 1452 Gutenberg receives another 800 guilder from Fust, accepting him now as a partner in the business. And on the technical side the business is going well. By 1455 printing is well under way of Gutenberg's ambitious Bible. When the first copies are ready, in 1456, funds will begin to flow into the business. Either this knowledge, or perhaps a personal quarrel, must lie behind Fust's action of 1455.


Fust demands his money back, suing Gutenberg in 1455 for 2026 guilders - representing the loan plus accrued interest. In November a court finds in favour of Fust. Gutenberg loses all rights in his presses, his type, his premises and the sheets already printed of his Bible. Fust takes on the business with Peter Schoeffer, Gutenberg's foreman, in charge of the presses.

Fust and Schoeffer publish anonymously the superb 42-line Bible in 1456. History, with justice, refers to it as the Gutenberg Bible. But the magnificent Mainz psalter of 1457, work on which must almost certainly have started before Gutenberg's removal, features the names of Fust and Schoeffer.


Gutenberg is still in Mainz in 1457 but thereafter nothing is heard of him until 1465, when he is given a post in the court of the archbishop of Mainz. He dies in 1468. By then Fust too is dead, a victim perhaps of the plague on a bookselling trip to Paris in 1466.

Peter Schoeffer inherits the business and in 1467 marries Fust's daughter, Christina. He continues to run the Mainz presses, with considerable success, until his death in about 1502.


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