11.1.1. The Typographical Big Bang of the Fifteenth Century, and the Fabulous Destiny of the Carolingian Script

An account of the history of typography, and more specifically the history of fonts, always begins with a reference to Gutenberg, especially since Marshall McLuhan named our era after him. Johannes Gensfleisch, or Gutenberg, born in Mainz circa 1395, did not long reap the benefits of his invention of printing; a craftsman, he began to experiment at the age of 40 in the greatest secrecy. Building a printer's workshop from scratch was an extremely costly undertaking, and his creditors, who were no philanthropists, seized his equipment as soon as it became operational, in 1450. It was a lawyer, Johannes Fust, and his son-in-law, Pierre Schöffer, who took over his workshop.

Gutenberg had a goal: he wished to produce Bibles that were virtually identical to handwritten ones, but at a lower cost. And he succeeded.

The typeface used for these Bibles is no longer very legible to us readers of the twenty-first century; the script is too old-fashioned, full of ligatures and abbreviations. But this typeface was the one that was needed to satisfy his customers and make them believe that the copy had been written by hand. The fact that the versals and the illustrations were still drawn by hand contributed to the illusion. Thus the history of typography in Europe began with—fraud!

The script that Gutenberg chose for his Bibles was textura, which is characterized by its almost ...

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