Field Trip Friday: Gutenberg Museum, Mainz

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Visit the Gutenberg Museum to see the Gutenberg Bible FTCdisclosure

The Gutenberg Museum in Mainz, Germany has got to be one of my favorite places to visit in Germany. It’s very close to our home, and isn’t very expensive to tour. I could spend hours there! I wasn’t allowed to take pictures- so I am sorry I can’t “show” you everything we saw, but I can’t resist telling you all about it!

The Gutenberg Museum is one of the oldest printing museums in the world, having opened it’s doors in 1900. It covers multiple floors and is heaven for a book lover.

When we arrived, we headed straight to the floor that is filled with books- this museum has hundreds of books dating before the printing press. Hand written and beautifully illuminated texts from the middle ages. From there, they show books from when printing was new to the world, and include (my favorite) a display of how they produced full color images long ago by layering different colors on top of each other. The individual print panels are so intricate, that when the work is done, the image almost appears hand drawn in colored pen.

The museum also includes a floor full of different printing presses, and explains how they each work. Most of the museum is in German, but after learning about different types of book making from The Story of the World, our Gutenberg Comic Book, and our various trips around Europe (the Monastery tour was a huge help here!), the kids and I were able to make out what each one was, and how it worked.

The boy’s favorite part was seeing the full sized reproduction of Gutenberg’s famous printing press, and getting to watch a demonstration on how to use it.  They showed us how Gutenberg used a metal alloy (tin, lead and some other medals) to create a liquid metal that cooled almost instantly. With it, he was able to produce many letters and create plates for his bible to use with the press very quickly and efficiently. The demonstrator made a letter, and showed us all the quick cooling metal, and then set to work printing a page of the bible.

To create the page, he laid out a series of trays that had been assembled with individual hand-casted letter tiles, which were held in place in the tray to be used again and again. Each tray received a coat of ink individually, to allow the trays made for the artistic elements to be in a different color, and then placed in a larger tray, which was then clamped into place. Then, they closed a lid which contained a piece of parchment, turned a bar to bring down the press, and voila! a page was done.

The gutenberg bible

We were fortunate to be sitting in on a demonstration with only a very small group, and I had the only children there, so we were given the demonstration print to bring home as a keepsake. We were given strict instructions to NOT open it in the museum, store, or on the street, because it was a much coveted piece of paper. I was just thrilled to stick it in my bag to admire at home! Soon, I’ll frame it to put on the wall. (see images of the press, and the trays here!)

The very best part of the whole museum is to be able to visit the vault which contains their most treasured possession, two of the remaining 48 Gutenberg Latin Bibles. Gutenberg produced about 180 of his 42 line, 2 volume bibles. 150 on paper, and 30 on thick parchment. I couldn’t believe how large and beautiful each tome was! Each Gutenberg Bible was given added artistic elements by a professional artist in a style suited to the individual purchasing it, so each one is just a little different and uniquely special. (see if one of the 48 Bibles can be seen near you!)

Field Trip Friday The Gutenberg Museum is in downtown Mainz, right off the main square by the cathedral. You can park in any of the downtown garages and reach it on foot, although I prefer the one on the Galleria. Admission is inexpensive, and demonstrations are done once every hour. I would not recommend going with a group, unless you call to set up a time in advance, because every time I have gone, there have been large crowds of school children there. Be prepared to take your time and go slowly in the case of lots of tourists. I’ve had the most luck going first thing in the morning on a weekday when the German students are on holiday.

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  1. Wow. Thank you for your explanation of how the print was created. I have one I inherited. It was my mother’s when she lived there in the 1950s. I had been combing images hoping to find the same one. There are so many available online, but I took on the challenge and found your image. It appears it was made from the same type of letter tiles! Thank you for your story and enthusiam for books.

  2. Oh we love going there too! So lucky you got the demo print!!! We got lousy pencil rubbings from the monuments outside ;). I did manage to get quite a few photos of beautiful old books before being told no photos though!

    1. We had AWESOME timing for our last trip- it was during christmas market season, so school trips were less, and there was only a handful of people at the demonstration with us.

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