Take bundles of old rags, beaten to a pulp;
the skins of goats, scraped and soaked;
flattened gold, thin as grass;
flax seed oil and soot,
molded lead and sawn oak.
Put them together, and what do you get?
Gutenberg accomplished this In Mainz, Germany, around the year 1450. His revolutionary invention changed forever the possibilities of sharing ideas with masses of people around the world and across time.
James Rumford’s book is a fascinating introduction to Gutenberg’s printing press. Rumford leads us along a riddlesome journey, seeking to find out what this mysterious thing was that required such an odd list of ingredients.
Each two-page spread describes clearly, succinctly, vividly, in word and illustration, one process in the multi-step development of a printed book: how the paper was made, the leather, the gold leaf. Because the end goal of a book is always cloaked in secrecy, these discoveries entice us to want to know more and more. What could all of this be leading to?! By the time the book is revealed in the end, it really feels as miraculous as it should.
Rumford’s illustrations are done in pen and ink, painted with watercolor and gouache, and inspired by illuminated manuscripts. Besides being gorgeous and providing an authentic Medieval atmosphere, if you take the time to look carefully you will see each tiny step in each process he describes. When he is telling us about making ink, we can see them gathering seeds, crushing them in a press, boiling the oil, burning pine pitch, scraping out soot, grinding oil and soot together. Incredible detail, gorgeous rich colors, and all the clothing, architecture, tools, and furnishings of 1450s Germany.
Besides all this, we are given glimpses of Gutenberg’s manuscripts, a significant epilogue with more information on Gutenberg and the history of printing, and many tips on how to search for more information about the techniques and materials mentioned in the book.
Published in 2012, this is an excellent book for ages 8 or 9 and older, packing an incredible amount of information into a beautiful, accessible form.