The invention of movable types in Europe, as we all know, has been generally attributed to Gutenberg — just as the steam engine has popularly been considered that of Watt. However Watt did not invent the steam engine; he perfected it, however, so highly to make it almost a new invention. This is, I conceive, what Gutenberg did for printing; he was the first man to put on a practical and scientific basis. Before his day, printing from movable types was practised by the Dutch, and there is, perhaps a reason to believe that a man named Coster was the inventor of this process. Whether or not Coster was the first man to employ movable types, there certainly existed in Holland before Gutenberg’s time, a series of books of primitive workmanship printed from type, and the roughness of the typography of some of the later printers — like Caxton — is considered one proof that a group of me were under the influence of this Dutch school of printing.
If it is true that Gutenberg did not originate printing from movable types, but simply greatly improved the whole practice of making them, then we can see that the early and crude typography of Holland was merely the sub-structure on which Gutenberg so splendidly built.
Gutenberg’s invention consisted, apparently, in making brass moulds and matrices by which type could be accurately cast in large quantities. Relief printing, paper, wood engraving, printed books, even the printing press, and perhaps the idea of movable types were not attributable to Gutenberg. These had all been thought of already. Gutenberg availed himself of the different experiments of his predecessors and made something which, however, it has been improved upon in details today, has not been improved upon in theory.
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