Opposite the cathedral in the heart of the old part of Mainz in Germany lies the Gutenberg Museum.
It is one of the oldest museums of printing in the world and attracts experts and tourists from all corners of the globe.
In 1900, 500 years after Gutenberg’s birth, a group of citizens founded the museum in Mainz. They wanted to honour the inventor, today’s “man of the millennium”, and present his technical and artistic achievements to the public at large. They also aimed to exhibit the writing and printing of as many different cultures as possible.
To help launch the museum, a number of publishers, manufacturers of printing machines and printing houses donated books, apparatus and machines. These formed the basis of the collection. In its first few years the museum was part of the city library, meaning that the most beautiful and characteristic volumes from the library’s extensive collection could be requisitioned for the museum. Visitors were thus presented with a survey of almost 500 years of the printed book. In time the museum expanded to include sections on printing techniques, book art, job printing and ex-libris, graphics and posters, paper, the history of writing of all cultures of the world and modern artists’ books.
The Gutenberg Museum was originally laid out in two rooms at the Kurfürstliches Schloß in Mainz, which also accommodated the city library. The museum moved into the new library building on the Rheinallee in 1912.
The “Gutenberg Workshop”
The same year, 1925, saw the installation of a reconstruction of Gutenberg’s workshop which soon became one of the museum’s main attractions. Type founding, typesetting and printing could now be demonstrated visually. The replica
of Gutenberg’s printing press, rebuilt according 15th- and 16th-century woodcuts, proved an object of great interest to visitors and was henceforth shown at a large number of exhibitions all over the world.
A House in the Heart of Town
In 1927 the museum was able to move into the Römischer Kaiser (1664), one of the most beautiful buildings in Mainz. This is now where the museum’s administration, the restoration workshop, library and Gutenberg Society are housed. When the Late Renaissance building was heavily bombed in 1945, all dreams of enlarging the museum were at first shattered; luckily, the museum’s contents had been stored in a safe place and thus remained intact.
In 1962, the year Mainz celebrated its 2,000th anniversary, the restoration of the Römischer Kaiser was complete and the building ready for use again. A new, modern exhibition building was also opened, constructed with money donated by a number of generous sponsors.
The museum made several important acquisitions in the following years, among them a second Gutenberg Bible, the Shuckburgh Bible in two volumes (1978), and two block books printed using wooden formes and today extremely rare. Another major change was the introduction of the Print Shop (Druckladen), the museum’s educational unit, in 1989. The museum also stages guided tours and lectures.
Restoration and Extension in 2000
A century after its founding, on the 600th anniversary of Gutenberg´s birth the old museum building was restored and extended with the help of the state Rhineland-Palatinate, the city of Mainz, the Gutenberg Sponsorship Association (Förderverein Gutenberg) and numerous private companies and citizens of Mainz. The museum exhibits are now in a more up-to-date, lively setting.
Visitors to the museum can enjoy an excellent array of permanent exhibits and frequent special exhibitions, browse around an innovative museum shop and relax in the pleasant museum café.