There is no doubt whatever about it. Gutenberg was dead, to begin with, dead these 562 years. Hummery signed the papers—Gutenberg was as dead as a doornail.
After spending a tiresome day cleaning up type lice, I retired for the evening, a Winter’s evening when restless memories stir like dry leaves. About halfway through my usual dream about automated handset type, a deep rumbling noise awakened me.
A bearded gentleman in what appeared to be medieval garb greeted me like an old friend.
“Frankela,“ he said with a Teutonic accent. You, you’re Gutenberg, I stammered.
“In the flesh, the Geisfleisch, if you will excuse a poor pun.”
It probably loses something in the translation. Why are you here?
“To show you what was and what will be. Come with me.” Instantly, we were transported to an ancient print shop. It was his shop in Mainz and it was 1455. There were 20 or so workers, some of them picking type from trays and others printing on giant timbered presses.
Reminds me of a plant in Cleveland, I said.
“Look at this type,” he said. “My assistant Peter Schoeffer and I worked diligently to make type look like handwriting.” I saw over 200 characters in the font, many ligatured.
You wanted your printing to look like handwriting so you could charge what the scribes charged, I said.
“I was so close before Fust foreclosed. If only we had GoFundMe then.”
Inventing typographic printing took time and Gutenberg had to emulate what the scribes did, scribbling their way to Heaven. Print caused the Reformation and the Renaissance. More importantly print gave mankind the tool for mass communication. Print went on to influence every part of our lives, from education to religion to politics and more.
In the blink of an eye we were in a plant around 1950. Linotypes had replaced the armies of hand compositors. Coded paper tape ran the typesetters but people still made up pages. Printing was still by letterpress but offset lithography was growing.
Another blink and it was 1995. Type was set on film from computer input. It was the height of cold type and also the peak in terms of the number of printing companies. From that point, the number would decline slowly.
Another blink and it was 2020. Designers created their pages on computers using desktop publishing. They made PDF files that were sent electronically to printing plants and input directly to computer platemakers or digital printers.
But printers were disappearing as print was replaced by type and images on screens.
Another blink and it was 2040. The world had re-discovered print. Paper mills were re-started. New printing companies were born. Printed products dominated. People preferred print over flickering screens.
This printing plant of the future was empty of people. There was total automation with robots moving paper from machine to machine. There was a control room up near the rafters. Through the window I saw that it was all run by one person.
And it was Gutenberg himself. He was the past and future of print.
His last words to me were “There will always be print. How we produce it will change, but what I invented will endure.”
And then he was gone.