We have all heard the expression ‘knowledge is power’. In a time where we can access knowledge in an instant, we fail to recognise how powerful it truly is.
Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press, circa. 1439, not only lead to the mass production of the Bible, but paved the way for mass production of books leading to a ‘knowledge-economy’. By the 1500 more than twenty volumes of books had been produced in printing presses throughout Western Europe and by the 19th Century, Gutenberg’s original design had been adjusted to replace hand-operation with steam-powered rotary presses, allowing production on an industrial scale.
The dissemination of knowledge played an integral role in the Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment, a time where ancient Greek and Roman philosophical ideas and theories were being used to overthrow Monarchs in America and France as their printed works were available to the middle and lower classes. Smart phones, social media and the internet were used in the same way to overthrow despotic rulers in countries such as Egypt. Like books, modern technology allows anyone access to knowledge irrespective of their age, gender or social status.
Gutenberg’s press didn’t just impact how society used knowledge, it protected intellectual property resulting in copyright laws and led to the enterprise of printing, now known as ‘the press’. The most famous use of his press was for the Bible, the first major book printed in the Western World, selling out almost instantly, to monasteries, universities and wealthy individuals.
“Gutenberg’s Apprentice, Headline Publishing Group, is a work of fiction firmly grounded in historical fact”, says journalist, letter press printer and now author, Alix Christie. She stumbled across the story of Peter Schoeffer, a scribe and early printer who is believed to have art worked the world’s first book. Christie spent five years researching and travelling the globe in search of information about Schoeffer, Gutenberg and the mass production of the first printed Bibles.
The pinnacle of her long journey came in 2009 when the worlds leading authority on Gutenberg, Paul Needham, casually dropped a volume of the Bible is her hands. The craftsmanship was amazing, as she recalls how the ink was as glossy as if it had been printed the previous day. “As a printer, I ran my fingertips over the impression of the type; as a writer, I hoped that in telling its incredible story I might reaffirm the value of the handmade in our electronic age.”
The English philosopher, Francis Bacon, noted in 1620 that Gutenberg’s press is a revolutionary, world changing invention. And he was right.