Opening page of the Scheide copy of the third impression of the Catholicon, Mainz: [Konrad Humery & Peter Schoeffer, “1460” [ca. 1473]. Princeton provides a digital facsimile of that copy at this link.

Opening page of the Scheide copy of the third impression of the Catholicon, Mainz: [Konrad Humery & Peter Schoeffer, “1460” [ca. 1473]. Princeton provides a digital facsimile of that copy at this link.

First leaf of the Mainz 1460 printing of the Catholicon on vellum from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek.

First leaf of the Mainz 1460 printing of the Catholicon on vellum from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek.

Detail map of Altstadt, Mainz, Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany Overview map of Altstadt, Mainz, Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany

A: Altstadt, Mainz, Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany

Gutenberg's Last Production; An Early Form of Stereotyping

1460 to 1473
The first page of the copy of the 1460 Catholicon in the Bridwell Library Special Collections, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University. Notice the related but different style of illumination and rubrication. Princeton provides a full digital facsimile of the copy at this link.

The first page of the copy of the 1460 Catholicon in the Bridwell Library Special Collections, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University. Notice the related but different style of illumination and rubrication. Princeton provides a full digital facsimile of the copy at this link.

In 1460 an edition of the encyclopedic and lexicographical work by the 13th century Dominican of Genoa, Johannes Balbus (Giovanni Balbi), entitled the Summa grammaticalis quae vocatur Catholicon, was issued in Mainz by "the printer of the Catholicon", (ISTC No. ib00020000). This was the first printed book to name its place of printing. It was also called the first work printed that was not entirely religious in content, though in its non-religious aspects it was clearly preceded by the bloodletting calendar of 1456, of which only one copy survived. 

From the standpoint of lexicography Balbi became "the first lexicographer to achieve complete alphabetization (from the first to the last letter of each word)" (Oxford History of English Lexicography [2008] 30). The first four sections of of Balbi's work concerned orthography, prosody, word derivations and syntax and figures of speech. Throughout his work Balbi quoted not only from the Bible and writings of the saints but also from the Latin classics. It remained the most widely-used lexical resource during the 14th and 15th centuries, and had no serious rival until the early 16th century.

The colophon of this book reads in translation:

"This book was produced not with a reed, stylus, or quill, but by the admirable design, proportion, and adjustment of punches and matrices."

The means by which this book was printed continues to be the subject of research:

"As early as 1905 Gottfried Zedler recognized that the Catholicon edition dated Mainz 1460 exists in three impressions printed from a single setting of type but associated with three presses (with different pinhole patterns) and printed on three distinct paper stocks. In 1982 Paul Needham presented evidence that the three issues were printed at three different times, according to the datable use of their paper stocks: copies on Bull's Head paper (with which are classed the vellum copies) in 1460, copies on Galliziani paper ca. 1469, and copies on Crown and Tower papers ca. 1472. Moreover, Needham argued that the three impressions were produced, not from standing type, but from two-line 'slugs' cast from the type and capable of being reassembled for subsequent impressions. According to this theory, the first impression of the Catholicon was produced by Gutenberg himself in 1460; the 'slugs' then passed into the possession of Konrad Humery with Gutenberg's other typographic material after the latter's death in 1468 and were re-used by Humery, probably with the help of Peter Schoeffer, ca. 1469. In this view, which has aroused prolonged controversy among incunabulists, the 1460 Catholicon represents not only Gutenberg's last production but also his final achievement, the invention of an early form of stereotyping" (The Nakles Collection of Incunabula, Christie's New York, 17 April 2000, Lot 2).

"Three issues can be distinguished in spite of identical typesetting: a) printed on vellum or Bull's Head paper; b) on Galliziani paper; c) on Tower & Crown paper. This has given rise to the theory that issue a) was printed in 1460, issue b) in 1469 and issue c) about 1472; see P. Needham, in BSA 76 (1982) pp.395-456 and the articles "zur Catholicon-Forschung" in Wolfenbütteler Notizen zur Buchgeschichte 13 (1988) pp.105-232. For an alternative theory that all three states were printed about 1469, see L. Hellinga in Gb Jb 1989 pp. 47-96 and in The Book Collector (Spring 1992) pp. 28-54" (https://data.cerl.org/istc/ib00020000).

 

Timeline Themes

Related Entries