Gutenberg’s Inventions – Part 3: Type and type case -- drupa - May 28 to June 7, 2024 - Messe Düsseldorf

Gutenberg’s Inventions – Part 3: Type and type case

In our series, guest author Dr. Julia Bangert from the International Gutenberg Society introduces the inventions of Johannes Gutenberg. The third edition is all about the type and type case.

Die Type

Scheme of a piece of type. Legend: Details: 1. hallmark, 2. face, 3. flesh, 4. cone, 5. shoulder, 6. body (shank), 7. nick, 8. groove; dimensions: a head, b quadrat-high, a+b type-high, c character width, d point size

The type or sort is mainly made of lead and is the result of casting with a hand mould. At the head of a long rectangular body (shank), each piece of type bears the inverted and raised image of a character. Together, individual pieces of type form a typeface that can be used to set a wide variety of texts.
To save time, writers in the early modern period often used abbreviations and letter fusions called ligatures. Johannes Gutenberg based his prints closely on the model of the manuscript and adopted these characteristics. Instead of using only the 26 letters of the alphabet in upper and lower case as well as the punctuation marks, as is customary today, he also produced a whole series of these special characters. In addition, there were different variants of a letter, for example as a connecting letter. Such a connecting letter looked like it had been cut off on its right side and had no edge, so that a following letter could be placed close to it. In total, Gutenberg cast around 290 different pieces of type for his famous Gutenberg Bible.

The type case

Christian F. Gessner, “Die so nöthig als nützliche Buchdruckerkunst und Schriftgiesserey: mit ihren Schriften, Formaten und allen dazu gehörigen Instrumenten abgebildet auch klärlich beschrieben, und nebst einer kurzgefassten Erzählung vom Ursprung und Fortgang der Buchdruckerkunst”, 1740, p. 226f

The finished type is placed in a wooden box with many small compartments of different sizes, the “type case”. We do not know whether Gutenberg already used such a type case or arranged the sort in another way. In a hand compositor’s workshop the type case is in any case an integral part of the equipment. There is a separate type case for each font, font size and typeface. The size of the individual compartments and the distribution of the type in them is based on pragmatic considerations. The letters or punctuation marks that are used most often are placed in the middle of the largest compartments. In this way, more of them can be stored in the type case and the compositor can reach them most easily. Less frequently used characters can be found in the smaller compartments around the case. Each type case also contains non-printing material for the word spaces and character spacing.

About the Author

Julia Bangert holds a Ph.D. in Book Studies and is an artist. In 2019, her dissertation was published under the title 'Book Trade System and Knowledge Space in the Early Modern Period.' She works freelance as a book painter and illustrator. Her signature style features the finest use of color and an elegant brushstroke, with perfect gold leafing as her passion.

One of her ongoing projects is the illumination of Bible pages, which can be purchased in the shop at the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz.

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