Media History Project

Gutenberg's Type

A sample of Johannes Gutenberg's typeface—difficult to read by today's standards—indicates his numerous versions of letters. Although we often credit moveable type printing presses with having standardized the look of letters, Gutenberg's initial effort was aimed not at creating a new kind of typeface but at reproducing the look of a handwritten manuscript. So he provided numerous versions of letters, complete with all the eccentricities of medieval handwriting.

During the era of the scribal manuscripts, the penmanship in hand-copied books varied enormously; scribes used different abbreviations or letter styles; glosses—notes in the margins—also lent a sense of dialogue between scribes and scholars within the books. Gutenberg's exactly repeatable type may have ultimately standardized the look of writing and led to the comparatively "silent" books of the Enlightenment, but his intention was to reproduce an old technology anew.