Printing with Gutenberg in Mainz

I’m in Mainz, Germany to spend time at the Gutenberg Museum. Yesterday I visited the excellent library at the museum, and this morning, at the very last minute, I made arrangements to spend some time setting type in the museum’s Druckladen — printing workshop.


And so I arrived at 10:00, was given a tour of the shop, got an explanation of how the catalog of metal typefaces works (they have a very large collection) and was set up with a workstation to set my type. Along the way I was quizzed on the English terminology for various printing terms, which stretched me to the limits of my printing knowledge (who needs terms when you have a one-man shop and can simple refer to things as “that thingy you measure things with”).

Gutenberg Museum Druckladen


I needed to choose something to print, and a quick Google search for “Gutenberg quotes” produced this one:

It is a press, certainly, but a press from which shall flow in inexhaustible streams…Through it, God will spread His Word. A spring of truth shall flow from it: like a new star it shall scatter the darkness of ignorance, and cause a light heretofore unknown to shine amongst men.

Somewhat more religious a quote than I’d usually print, but when in the house of a Bible-printer, it seemed appropriate.

I choose to print the quote in a variant of the same Akzidenz Grotesk I’ve been borrowing from Holland College at home — in this case a combination of 20 and 28 point type. The actual printing was done on a flat-bed press by a printer — outsiders aren’t allowed access to the heavy equipment itself. He did an excellent job.

Gutenberg Quotation

Gutenberg Quote

The plan was originally to print everything in the larger 28 pt. type, but I quickly realized that I didn’t have enough letters in that size to set the entire quote. I had to switch from breaking the sentence after “Word” to use a semi-colon instead because it turns out the 28 point type had no capital letter As. The yellow swish along the side is a nice flourish that one of the printers added for me after I left to let the prints dry.

If you look carefully at this type before I corrected it, you’ll notice that, among other things, I spelled Gutenberg wrong. Also the word “word.” Oops. Bs and Ds look so much alike when you’re reading backwards.


The typesetters and printers at Druckladen were very kind to accommodate me, and very patient with my clumsy homebrew style of moving type around (there’s nothing to humble a printer than to print in the company of people who actually know what they’re doing — real printers, in other words).

If you will be in Mainz — and you should really visit, as it’s a very nice little city with an excellent museum — I recommend you stop into the workshop and so some printing yourself. They’ll show you how. There’s no better way to grok Gutenberg.


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