by Janice McCaffrey
Today is Halloween, the evening vigil before All Hallows Day. The day set aside to honor Saints, known and unknown, who have gone before us. November 2nd is All Soul’s Day said to be the commemoration of all the faithful departed. These three days together are known as Allhallowtide. As lovers of reading this week we’d think of authors we revere. Depending on our favorite genre: Shakespeare, Dickens, Mark Twain, Austen, Poe, the Bronte sisters, Agatha Christie, Jules Verne, Shelly and Byron, just to name a few.
But this month’s book club selection is Gutenberg’s Apprentice a novel by Alix Christie.
Yes, I remember learning about Gutenberg and his Bible back in some high school history class, but I didn’t understand the genius of the accomplishment or its implications.
By fifty-seven years of age, Johannes Gutenberg, a German merchant
turned black smith and gold smith, figured out how to forge combinations of metals that could be carved into letters.
Then he built a contraption that used those metal letters smeared with thick ink to print an entire page of words.
Until then scribes wrote by hand with quill whatever written word folks had.
Then with a grandiose or inspired idea he decided to print the entire Bible. It took three years (1452-1455) of intense, arduous work, but introduced the printing press to the world. The following year his partner/investor won a lawsuit which took Gutenberg’s workshop and printing press from him and left him bankrupt.
Gutenberg’s greatest accomplishment the beginning of equality in reading led to versions of smaller printers; typewriters like this Underwood of 1895.
Our universal keyboard of today was created in 1873 by Christopher L. Sholes, a Milwaukee newspaperman, poet, and part time inventor. He called it the QWERTY keyboard.
Guilty of taking my computer and keyboard for granted and complaining about slow internet connections, this Allhallowtide I will venerate Master Gutenberg for his vision and determination. Along with Peter Schoeffer, his apprentice, who went on to become a master printer and the first publisher. And I won’t forget all those imaginative, innovative folks who followed to bring the gift of mass-produced books to the world and me.