In Search of a Bestseller

I wenty years previously, Gutenberg had left Mainz in a huff, as a patrician aggrieved by his treatment at the hands of the rising guildsmen. Now, judging by his actions, he had mellowed. For the last decade he had been dedicated to the very technical and craft skills that underpinned the guildsmen’s influence. The old establishment was on the wane, and success depended on working with the new men.

Mainz was in even more turmoil than when he left it. In his absence, the city’s debt had reached catastrophic levels: 373,000 gulden, half of it accounted for by annuity payments. The town’s creditors – other towns in the area – had made it a condition of their support that the guildsmen back off and return power to patrician families. It hadn’t worked. A committee of guildsmen suspected sharp practice and demanded transparency. In 1444 the Armagnac threat forced a showdown. Still the Church refused to help. Monasteries grew fat while the city laboured on in the red. Under the chairmanship of the council secretary, Dr Konrad Humery, furious guildsmen formed a pressure group dedicated to the overthrow of the clerics, who now emerged as even worse than the discredited patricians. The patricians resigned, the guildsmen were voted back in, wielding power through three burgomasters and four treasurers. Democracy ruled, sort of, except that the archbishop, Dietrich von Erbach, claimed authority not simply as head of the Church but as prince, who was owed a sales tax and had the right to appoint senior officials; and the Church refused point-blank to pay any tax on the wines sold by monasteries, or allow their clerical employees to pay any. Out of the goodness of its heart, the Church did offer a grant of some 20,000 gulden. It was not enough. In 1446 the council seriously considered mortgaging the whole city to Frankfurt. And in 1448 Mainz declared itself bankrupt and simply stopped paying its annuities, saving enough money to allow it to return to solvency.

Gutenberg was in no hurry to return to this chaos. For the previous four years, he had vanished – where? To do what? No one has any idea. Possibly there were more mirrors to make for the next Aachen pilgrimage in 1447; possibly he took his workshop and based himself over the Rhine, out of reach of the Armagnacs, in the safety of Lichtenau, the suburb controlled by one of his investors, Hans Riffe.

For years, some researchers guessed he was in Frankfurt, until in 2001 came news that he wasn’t. In an article in the Gutenberg Jahrbuch, a Frankfurt lawyer, Reinhardt Schartl, reported on the rediscovery of a record of a Frankfurt court case: in 1447 Gutenberg had employed a Frankfurt citizen, Hans Beyer, barber, to act for him in seizing assets of a certain Hennen (Johann) von Tedlingen to cover a debt of fifteen gulden. Not exactly an earth-shattering piece of information, but at least a strong indication, if not quite proof, that Gutenberg was not in Frankfurt at the time, or he would have appeared in person. The discovery acts as a reminder that the past should never be regarded as closed. Other documents may, like fossils, be unearthed from dusty archives to throw new light on Gutenberg’s ‘hidden years’.

In any event, it was not until 1448 that he was definitely back in Mainz, drawn there, perhaps, after the death of his sister made available the old family home, the Gutenberg house. Never mind the civil unrest – he needed the space. We know he was in Mainz then because in the autumn of that year he prevailed upon his cousin, Arnold Gelthus, to borrow 150 gulden for him, at 5 per cent interest. It was enough to finance another start-up with a little team of half a dozen assistants from Strasbourg, among them perhaps Hans Dünne (his punch-cutter), Heinrich Keffer, Berthold Ruppel and Johann Mentelin. Lorenz Beildeck and his wife would probably have come to keep the house shipshape as it turned into a print shop, with vellum and paper piled up on its floors.

Supposing that all the while he was planning a printing operation, he faced a permanent problem of cash flow. In Strasbourg he had solved this by a combination of finance from his partners and perhaps income from his mirrors venture. Now there would have to be real end products: the books. With such expenses, commitments and debts, failure was not an option. He needed a bestseller, and if possible more than one.

The Bible was not yet a consideration, for its commercial possibilities would not have been obvious. For the Church and most clergy, the Bible needed careful handling. The fount of Christian doctrine, it could also be the source of error. Indeed, the Latin translation done by St Jerome in 405 – the editio vulgata (standard version), or Vulgate – existed in many different versions. It needed experts to explain it. Theologians and clerics were the nuclear physicists of their day, the guardians of a powerhouse that meant salvation when applied correctly, eternal destruction if misused. Their authority, not to say income, depended on maintaining their guardian role. Only a few individuals, like Nicholas of Cusa, liked the idea of making the Bible widely available. Ordinary people – in particular the students and teachers who would make Gutenberg’s primary market – did not have Bibles and would never be able to afford one, whether copied by scribes or printed. At this early stage it would have been obvious to Gutenberg that a market for such an immense and controversial project would have to be sought among the great institutions – monasteries, courts, universities. It was just too big, too expensive.



Gutenberg’s Donatus-Kalender (D-K) type

As it happened, he already had a stopgap answer, something that offered the possibility of a fast return. It was the book that he himself had probably had as a student, which any student would have if he could afford it: the standard Latin grammar, the Ars Grammatica usually referred to by the name of its author, Aelius Donatus. This is, frankly, not a book for the beach. It was an utterly tedious analysis of Latin, considerably less appealing than Kennedy’s Latin Primer, which those of a certain age will recall from their own schooldays. It was a sensible choice, being only twenty-eight pages long and with a guaranteed market, which he could tap into because he had the one advantage offered by printing: he could provide an error-free edition, in which every copy was identical.


It would not be a pretty book. The traditional layout was forbidding. Whether copied by scribes or reproduced in woodcuts, paper needed to be saved, so the text was crammed in, with only the occasional drop-capital to break it up.

The lettering for this textbook was the same heavy Gothic that scribes used in missals, solid lumpish letters that suggested some woven texture or other. It was this ‘textura’, therefore, on which Gutenberg settled for his own Donatus.

In every respect, except its accuracy, the more conservative Gutenberg’s edition, the more like a scribal copy, the better. With no other models to guide him, he did his best to mimic the look long established by scribes, preserving the unjustified right-hand margin and several variations of the same letter, incorporating the accents which scribes used to indicate short forms of words. Since this was Latin, there was no call for capital WX, Y and Z, but what with the many variants – ten different as, twelve ps – the type totalled 202 different characters. This inefficient and rather ugly type was to prove extremely useful. Over the years there would be many thousands of copies of the Donatus in twenty-four different editions. The type would also be used for printing calendars, and the combination gives the type its name, the Donatus-Kalender, or D-K for short.

The D-K letters offer the strongest evidence – virtually the only evidence – for experts to settle on the date of Europe’s first book to be printed with movable type. From the way new letters are introduced, it is possible to establish a sequence for the surviving exemplars, back to a proto-Donatus of twenty-seven lines to a page. This dour little book was not much revered at the time, surviving only as odd pages used for the binding of later publications, and it has been impossible to date its first edition, but most would now agree that it was one of the first products, and almost certainly the first book, to leave Gutenberg’s new workshop in Mainz in about 1450.


Already this must have been proving an expensive operation. The 150 gulden loan he took out in October 1448 was not enough. For a good, profitable run of the Donatus and for future business, he would need more, a lot more. Imagine him starting afresh, the Donatus looming large, when another, far more promising opportunity opened up.

In December Nicholas of Cusa, the only German cardinal, arrived with his co-cardinal, Juan de Carvajal, to approve the new missal on which the Bursfeld monks had been working. It must have seemed a heady prospect – the two cardinals wanted not just a new, standardised missal but a choirbook and breviary as well. Surely these lines – with their guaranteed markets and perhaps backed by Church funds – offered potential bestsellers once they had been approved.

Now Gutenberg had almost everything in place – experience, expertise, a workshop, a project and a Big Idea – everything except the money. He was, in brief, an investor’s dream. And, as in Strasbourg, he found what he needed in a man who would prove both salvation and nemesis.

Johann Fust, goldsmith and merchant, was one of a family well known in Mainz. His younger brother Jakob was a council member, city treasurer and future burgomaster. He himself was one of the new men, a non-patrician member of the goldsmiths’ guild, and also a businessman, happy to resort to law to fight his corner. As a newly discovered document revealed in 2001 – another of Reinhardt Schartl’s reports in the Gutenberg Jahrbuch – he was taken to court in Frankfurt in 1446 after a deal went sour, with a demand for some 1,000 gulden. He claimed that he didn’t have to complete the contract, because the deal was concluded through an agent. The court gave him short shrift and told him to pay up. He dealt in manuscripts and block-books, often travelling to Paris on sales trips, and would have had a natural interest in Gutenberg’s business, in particular the Donatus. Besides, he had an adopted son, Peter Schöffer, who was working as a calligrapher in Paris; he would make a fine assistant for Gutenberg. Twenty years previously there wouldn’t have been much mutual attraction between the patrician Gutenberg and the craftsman Fust. But times had changed, turning Gutenberg into a technician and Fust into a would-be capitalist. They might not be best friends, or mix socially, but their talents and ambitions complemented each other.

The relationship is documented because it ended badly, in a court case, six years later, as we will see in due course. But things started well. In 1449 Fust lent Gutenberg 800 gulden, at 6 per cent interest, for ‘equipment’, which provided the security for the loan. This sum, something like £100,000/$150,000 in modern terms, may not sound huge until you remember that few institutions existed to raise such sums, and cash was mostly locked up in property and land. Fust later claimed he had to borrow the money himself, and pay interest. Perhaps he genuinely didn’t have the cash himself; but even if he did, he had good reason to borrow it. With capitalism still in its early stages, lending for interest was considered un-Christian (hence the rise of Jewish financiers). He could well have arranged matters to avoid the appearance of engaging in the sin of ‘usury’.

Anyway, Gutenberg, having agreed to pay the interest charges, didn’t. He threw it all into his workshop, and its products, and his small team.


Things did not work out quite as planned. The missal idea was in trouble from the start, for Mainz’s archbishop, Dietrich, had his own agenda. A new liturgical text approved by the Pope would have meant papal control, and he must have looked on the arrival of the two cardinals with a jaundiced eye. For some years he had been backing an alternative liturgy, which was being prepared by a team of scholars in his local monastery, St Jakob’s, work that continued despite the arrival of several monks sent from Bursfeld to impose Nicholas’s reforms. With two conflicting editions of the liturgy rivalling each other within one monastery, the pressures on the community through the 1440s must have been intense – ‘tumultuous’ was the word used by a St Jakob chronicler in 1441. The rumbling antagonisms came to a head after Mainz’s old archbishop died in 1449. The following year the new one, another Dietrich, backed the St Jakob version, produced as he said by ‘venerable and illustrious men’. So now the Church had two texts, one (from St Jakob’s) backed by Mainz’s prince-elector-archbishop, the other (by Johann Hagen and his team from the six monasteries forming the Bursfeld Congregation) supported by de Carvajal, Nicholas of Cusa, the Pope and Rome. Gutenberg must have been eagerly awaiting a decision.

The showdown came during Nicholas’s next visit. In 1451–2, on papal orders, he undertook a tour of Germany, mainly to impose the Bursfeld reforms. It was a sort of royal progress by a man who had become a wonder. Germans were used to prince-bishops but had never had a German-speaking cardinal of their own before. With thirty attendants, ‘Cardinal Teutonicus’, as he was nicknamed, wound his way from Austria, up the eastern side of Germany to the Netherlands, then back down the Rhine, stopping off at his home town to found a hospital for the poor which still stands today. At each town, fêted by local rulers, he preached, met clergy, urged prayers for the Pope and the Roman Church, railed against corruption, condemned ‘concubinage’ and did his best to stamp out superstition.

One notoriously superstitious place was Wilsnack – now Bad Wilsnack, eighty kilometres north-west of Berlin – where they believed that three pieces of holy bread, which had miraculously survived a church fire seventy years before, oozed Christ’s blood. Wilsnack had its own cult now, and was rich enough from its pilgrim-tourists to have rebuilt its church. This was not something to be encouraged by a Church keen to control both ritual and cash flow. Nicholas made his ruling: the red on these bits of toast could not be Christ’s blood, because ‘the glorified body of Christ has a glorified blood, which is completely invisible’. In fact, on this particular matter he failed. The cult endured for another century, by which time Catholicism was out, the Reformation was in, and bleeding hosts could be burned for good and all as offensive reminders of Roman abuses (though the present-day church still has a shrine to the Wunderblut – the miraculous blood – to which it owed its restoration).

Among the towns on Nicholas’s ‘great legation’ was Mainz, where Gutenberg was already hard at work. Here, Nicholas had to settle the vexed question of the conflicting liturgical texts. Mainz’s archbishop was, of course, one of those princes who would have blocked Nicholas’s rise, given the chance. Nicholas now had the power to take on such opposition, and he did so, through his aide, a Scottish prelate named Thomas. Thomas favoured Hagen’s text over the St Jakob version, which he said deviated both from Benedictine rites and from those of the established Church. This was a stunning insult to the new archbishop, who could not ignore it if he wished to preserve his local authority. There was little recourse except force of arms, as Nicholas well knew. To forestall trouble, he asked for papal intervention, and got it, in a bull that raised the stakes still further. Nicholas of Cusa, said the Pope, could raise an army and go to war, if that was what it took to get his way. In late 1451 Nicholas called a synod, with delegates drawn from all the province’s 17,000 priests and its 350 religious institutions. The synod met first in Mainz, then again in Cologne in March 1452. Seventy Benedictine abbots promised to reform their monasteries, which included, nota bene, stocking their libraries with good editions of the Bible. Nicholas had his way: Hagen’s text was approved, and St Jakob’s prior was replaced by a Bursfeld nominee. Outflanked, the archbishop held his tongue.

By this time Gutenberg was well advanced in what he would later call ‘the work of the books’, and all ready, one could assume, to publish the missal once it was approved by Christian Europe’s highest authority. As circumstantial evidence for this, researchers point to a range of four D-K type sizes used by Gutenberg later, which would in combination have been needed to print a missal. But which missal? He faced a publisher’s nightmare – two conflicting texts, one supported by Rome, the other by his local archbishop. He was in an impossible position. He had the technology; he had the market; he had the finance – but his hands were tied. To choose either would be commercial suicide.

What to do? With all the advantages of hindsight, the answer seems obvious.


But the Bible wasn’t the only possibility. Events abroad offered fresh opportunities. A threat was building on Christendom’s eastern frontier, in Byzantium, that tattered remnant of the Roman Empire which today forms Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey. The Turks, as every ruler in Europe was aware, were a disaster waiting to happen. Turkish tribes had been pushing west from Central Asia since 990; they had been in eastern Byzantium for over a century and eating into the Balkans since 1371. Kosovo fell to them in 1389, with consequences that are all too present today. Byzantium seemed helpless, trapped by blind faith and fossilised ceremonials. When the Orthodox priests rejected the possibility of union with Rome – and thus European military aid – in 1439, they whipped crowds into a xenophobic frenzy: ‘We need no Latins!’ they yelled. ‘God and the Madonna will save us from Mohammed!’ Well, the inhabitants of Constantinople had walls – a double set, eight metres and ten metres high – and a colossal chain across the harbour as a protection. But that was no help to outlying areas on which the Turks had set their sights.

One of these was the island of Cyprus, which had been seized by Richard the Lion-Heart during the First Crusade and handed over to a French crusading family, the Lusignans. The Lusignans were still ruling this eastern bulwark of Christianity 250 years later, though Italian traders called the shots. In 1450 the Cypriot king, John of Lusignan, became so nervous of the Turks that he appealed to the Pope for help.

What Pope Nicholas promised was not practical help but cash to pay mercenaries, to be raised by the publication of those contentious bits of paper known as indulgences. ‘Indulgence’ is an odd name for a document that in theory united the three requirements for the forgiveness of sins: penitence, forgiveness and punishment. Indulgences – confessionalia in Latin, Ablassbriefe (‘reduction [of sin] letters’) in German – were contracts by which the Church indulged the penitent’s desire for spiritual cleanliness. Once the gaps left for names and dates had been filled in, an indulgence stated that the sinner had done some good work – given alms, fasted, prayed, paid – and thus qualified for forgiveness of particular sins committed during a particular period – three months, say, or a year. It was a system easily abused, for priests and sinners could take penitence and forgiveness for granted and focus on the punishment, i.e. the payment. Now for the really clever part: in special circumstances the Pope could specify a cause, and for these special causes – a crusade, say – a goodly payment of four or five gulden would secure you a so-called plenary indulgence, which meant the remission of all sins. Think of it: if you die tomorrow, you have a ticket to bypass purgatory and go straight to heaven. This system, already much abused and much decried by Wycliffe and Hus, would become the cause for revolution within a couple of generations. But in 1450 it was still the accepted way for the Church to raise money.

The Turkish threat filled the bill. In August 1451 Pope Nicholas granted King John of Cyprus the right to produce plenary indulgences for the next three years, to raise enough cash to pay mercenaries to protect Cyprus from the Turks. With the principles established, the practicalities remained to be worked out: namely, how to get the indulgences copied as fast as possible, and sold, and the money collected. The king of Cyprus delegated two councillors, who subcontracted a team of agents to collect the cash.

In early May 1452 Nicholas of Cusa, cardinal, newly made Bishop of Brixen, and still on his ‘grand legation’ tour of Germany, ordered his new appointee, the prior of St Jakob’s in Mainz, to prepare 2,000 indulgences for sale in Frankfurt by the end of the month. Nicholas’s order must have come as music to Gutenberg’s ears. Here was a project that might provide a solution to his cash-flow problems just when the planned missal had hit the buffers. No doubt he would already have quantities of paper left over from the Donatus runs, which could be turned to a profit as single sheets. True, the only indulgences to survive date from a year or two later, but it hardly seems likely that such an opportunity should cross his path and that he should do nothing about it.


At least one other project seized Gutenberg’s attention before he focused on the Bible.

In 1892 a postcard-sized scrap of paper was found beneath the leather cover of an account book (I’ll tell you later where it was found, because otherwise it rather spoils the story). On it were two eleven-line extracts of a poem of some kind, in what was obviously a very early typeface. This little page turned out to be an extract of a version of some so-called Sibylline Prophecies, a genre that had been in existence since ancient times. The original Sibyl was a legendary Greek prophetess, who acquired countless local manifestations across the Greek and Roman world, one of whom was credited with a collection much consulted by Roman rulers. Jews and Christians had Sibylline Prophecies of their own, always in verse.

This intriguing scrap came from a Thuringian version, 750 lines of verse which had weird origins. It was accredited to Konrad Schmid, the leader of a sect of flagellants. They were the people who proclaimed that only by self-mutilation – not through the mediation of priests – could salvation be found. Banned by the Pope as a heretic, Schmid was burned at the stake with six companions in 1369, but the sect endured well into the fifteenth century, with 300 more being burned in 1416. Schmid had a vested interest in discrediting the established Church, so in one of the prophecies a sibyl foretells of strife in the Holy Roman Empire, of famine, of brutal and oppressive Popes. She also foresees the resurrection of the twelfth-century emperor, Friedrich, known as Barbarossa (Red Beard), who would convert Jews, infidels and Tartars, unify Christianity and usher in the Last Judgement –

Christus wil do urtel sprechen

Und wil alle bossheit rechen

[Christ will the judgement speak

And will for every sin account]

– in which no doubt those who had spent their lives whipping themselves would escape the devil’s lash. This obscure bit of doggerel is known to researchers by three titles: the Sibyl’s Book (Sibyllenbuch), the Sibylline Prophecy (Sibyllenweissagung) and the Last Judgement (Weltgericht, World Judgement).

Excitement increased when it was discovered that the letters were printed from the D-K type. The type, made for Latin text, lacked a capital W, and Gutenberg did not get around to cutting one, using a small w instead. To save paper, he set the verse to run on, not in separate lines. The type was not well aligned vertically or horizontally, the right-hand margins were not justified, and many of the letters came in several different versions. This had to be a snippet of true Gutenbergiana, when he was still in experimental mode.

These discoveries turned the battered fragment into the typographical equivalent of a holy relic. Could it in fact be a splinter from Europe’s first printed book? If so, where and when was it printed?

The most extreme view is that of the Leipzig calligrapher and designer of typefaces and books, Albert Kapr, who died in 1995. Kapr, who headed Leipzig’s College of Graphics and Book Design, based his argument on a coincidence: that Frederick III had come to the German throne in 1440. He argued that the pro-council, anti-Pope factions had an interest in promoting the Prophecy as part of their own propaganda for Frederick III, who they hoped would turn out to be a Frederick as great as Barbarossa. By the time the Armagnacs, the barbarians unleashed by Frederick for his own purposes, had terrorised the city and finally left in 1445, Frederick’s reputation was in tatters, and no one would have believed he could ever be Barbarossa reincarnated. So Kapr argued that the Prophecy had to be tied to Strasbourg and to the years of Gutenberg’s presence there. In his conclusion, Kapr has the certainty of Sherlock Holmes wrapping up a case: ‘I believe that anyone who considers the fragment . . . should be convinced . . . the technique of printing was invented in Strasbourg in about 1440.’

Well, most scholars disagree. It’s too much of a stretch. The evidence is not there – the opposite, if anything, for the single page was actually found not in Strasbourg at all, but in Mainz. Meticulous analysis of the type by Gottfried Zedler in 1904 suggested that the publication of the Prophecy interrupted production of the Donatus, which, if Kapr is right, would mean that the Donatus was started in Strasbourg as well, for which there is no evidence at all. Nor is there anything to back Kapr’s suggestion of a sudden upsurge in interest in prophecies in Strasbourg around the time of Frederick III’s accession. Sibylline Prophecies had always been popular, and remained so, in both manuscript and printed form, with dozens of printed editions rolling off presses into the early sixteenth century. Finally, tests done at the University of California’s Davis Campus in 1984 show that the ink is the same as that used in the Bible of 1452–54. There is absolutely nothing firm with which to fix the act of printing in Strasbourg, and, if the majority view is correct, never will be, because it didn’t happen. Because it happened in Mainz, in about 1450–54, along with the Bible and all the rest.


So: the Bible.

It was not, of course, an idea conceived in a void. It was the pinnacle of the reforms on which Nicholas of Cusa had embarked in the previous decade, and which he drove through after he became a cardinal. In May 1451, before the seventy Benedictine abbots meeting under his chairmanship in Mainz, Nicholas emphasised the need for monastic libraries to possess a well-translated and edited Bible. As he should have known by then – because Gutenberg had been at work in the city for the last three years – there was only one way to achieve this: by printing from a single source, fixed in metal, beyond any chance of a scribal miscopy or local variation.

Not that this could have been a formal commission. Nicholas did not initiate the project. If he had, there would have been papal approval, an exchange of letters, a payment. As we shall see, at least one prelate close to both Nicholas and the Pope expressed surprise when he discovered the existence of the Bible in 1454. But there could, perhaps, have been a nudge and a wink.

Here’s a scenario:

Gutenberg receives a discreet invitation from his old acquaintance to a private audience. He enters Nicholas’s temporary residence by some back door. His eminence the cardinal recalls their student days and that dream that all Christian Europe – perhaps even all Christendom, including the threatened eastern empire of Byzantium – might one day sing, read and pray from the same texts. He had heard rumours that such a thing might be technically possible, that perhaps Gutenberg . . . Yes, yes, Gutenberg says, he’s right on the verge. The cardinal smiles encouragement – Johann could rest assured that if his efforts are crowned with success he would have the backing of the Pope himself, and naturally, in that case, there would be a steady flow of orders for missals, choirbooks and, Deo volente, Bibles. And Gutenberg might point out how much more easily the cardinal and God could be served if there was some sort of advance on the sales. Ah, if only! But the expense of the current legation, taking in all Germany, is huge. Nothing more can be asked of the Holy Father at this stage. Of course, if Johann ever produces a Bible with this new art of writing, why, as bishop, Nicholas would wish his own church in Brixen to possess it. Gutenberg bows out with nothing in writing, for there would be no witnesses to this scene, nor anything promised in so many words, for Nicholas is a consummate politician; but Gutenberg nevertheless leaves with the distinct impression that he will have Church support, if and when. A scriptwriter could even come up with some documentary backing for this meeting, for Nicholas did indeed order a copy of Gutenberg’s Bible for Brixen – it is now in Vienna.

But if you feel this is a speculation too far, I’ll agree that it’s not strictly necessary, because Gutenberg could surely see the potential for himself. It was a vastly ambitious project, unprecedented, impossible to schedule or cost accurately. But with Nicholas and his retinue in town, there could have been a moment – must have been, given the strength of his commitment – when he was seized by the idea itself, by a vision of a beauty against which all difficulties faded, a beauty beyond anything of which scribes could dream, reproduced in all its perfection as many times as required, the ultimate justification for his invention.


But he’s out of money. He turns again to Fust. You can imagine the tension. Three years down the line, and Gutenberg has just about covered his costs with his Donatus and Sibylline Prophecy and indulgences, but hasn’t even managed to pay the interest on the original loan. This is a grey area. In his original proposal, Gutenberg had talked about missals and the Donatus. Now there are these other small-scale ventures. He claims that they are totally his ideas, not part of the original agreement, and he should keep the cash, and flow it all back into the business.

On top of which, he now wants more. For a second workshop, because that’s what it will take to develop the Bible. He has one in mind – a house belonging to a distant relative who is living in Frankfurt. It’s called the Hof zum Humbrecht, or Humbrechthof (the Humbrecht house), in the Schusterstrasse, a stone’s throw from his own place, and it’s empty and eminently rentable.

Fust is dubious. He’s not only put in the 800; he’s now owed about 140 gulden – two to three years in unpaid interest and compound interest. But he has to agree that progress in setting up the workshop in the Gutenberghof – the presses, the formes and the typecasting apparatus – has been terrific, which is fine, because it’s all mortgaged to him. Shame about the missal. He also has to agree that the potential is there, more than ever, if Gutenberg can make his next big idea work. It seems the only way he can get his money back is to provide more, even if it means borrowing on his own account.

So they redo the same deal: another 800 gulden, another agreement to pay the interest.

And Gutenberg is free to follow his dream.

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