Gutenberg in Strasbourg

Gutenberg was in Strasbourg from 1434 to 1444 and lived there at the gates of the city in St. Arbogast.

The Free Imperial City of Strasbourg, located upstream of the Rhine, was with 25,000 inhabitants much larger than Mainz. It was also an important trading city. The district St. Arbogast, where Johannes Gutenberg lived, was named after the Benedictine monastery of the same name there.

On 14 March 1434 Gutenberg had the town chronicler of Mainz, Nikolaus Wörstadt, taken into custody.

The document of this event is the first proof of Johannes Gutenberg's stay in Strasbourg. Incidentally, he had a good reason for his imprisonment: Mainz apparently refused to pay Gutenberg an outstanding amount of his life annuity of 310 gulden. The Strasbourg council, however, asked him to release Wörstadt and after the town clerk promised to pay the money, he was allowed to leave. Such an action was not unusual in Gutenberg's time. He was actually successful, because from 1436 the city of Mainz paid its debts to him.

According to a document dated 30 May 1434, Gutenberg's brother Friele transferred his life annuity to him.

Friele Gensfleisch's life annuity was originally 14 gulden. When it was transferred to Johannes Gutenberg, it was reduced to 12 gulden, as he, as the younger brother, had a longer life expectancy. Meanwhile Friele married the patrician daughter Else Hirtz and moved with her to Eltville in 1434. He lived there until his death in 1447.

In 1436 the patrician Ennelin von der Iserin Thüre sued Gutenberg for an allegedly unfulfilled marriage vow.

This trial is the only remaining reference to the love life of Johannes Gutenberg. During the course of his trial he was also accused of insulting and convicted by one of the witnesses. However, the whole matter is only documented in a transcript and the outcome of the trial is not known. In any case, there is much to suggest that Gutenberg was never married.

Together with the Reeve Hans Riffe von Lichtenau, Gutenberg worked on the serial production of pilgrimage mirrors since 1438.

A pilgrimage is a religiously motivated journey or hike to a holy place. Using pilgrimage mirrors, the faithful on such a pilgrimage should be able to capture the blessing of the relics and carry it with them. They were a popular souvenir and were produced in large quantities from a lead-tin alloy. Johannes Gutenberg and Hans Riffe von Lichtenau planned the production of pilgrimage mirrors for the next pilgrimage to Aachen. The city of Aachen had many shrines in its cathedral, the coronation place of the German kings. In 1349, these Aachen shrines were shown to the public for the first time, thus establishing the tradition of pilgrimages there. Gutenberg and Riffe, however, got lost in the date. The next pilgrimage, which took place every seven years, did not take place in 1439 as they had assumed, but only in 1440.

Gutenberg founded a consortium together with Andreas Heilmann and Andreas Dritzehn, among others.

This consortium (merger) was founded by Johannes Gutenberg in connection with his initiative for the serial production of pilgrimage mirrors, as explained in the last part. He thus sought other partners in Strasbourg to finance a new technical process which was not specified in detail.

Since 1437 Andreas Dritzehn from Strasbourg went into apprenticeship at Gutenberg to learn "the polishing of precious stones".

The "polishing of precious stones" refers to the craft of coinage or goldsmithing. After Andreas Dritzehn died in 1439, his brothers, Claus and Jerge, sued Johannes Gutenberg. They demanded that he repay the capital that Dritzehn had paid into the joint venture or take them on as partners. Of the entire trial, the files containing witness statements and a copy of the judgment have been preserved.

Gutenberg concluded a second contract with Heilmann, Riffe and Dritzehn to introduce them to "alle sin künste vnd afentur“ (all his arts and crafts).

The well-known phrase "arts vnd afentur" was also used in other contemporary sources for crafts and trade. Keeping the invention of new technical processes secret was quite common and it is indeed no longer comprehensible what exactly the contract between Johannes Gutenberg, Andreas Heilmann, Hans Riffe and Andreas Dritzehn was about. There is evidence of a wooden press built by the turner Conrad Saspach and of the use of lead and "moulds". In addition, the goldsmith Hans Dünne reported that he had received over 100 guilders for making everything "that belongs to the truck". Had Johannes here already invented letterpress printing? Had he perhaps even printed his first book? These questions cannot be answered definitively. But we have no evidence of this and we can assume that he Gutenberg was in Strasbourg only in the experimental phase of his later invention.

In 1444, Gutenberg is mentioned in a tax list as an armed resident of Strasbourg and „associate“ of the goldsmiths' guild.

This tax list is the last news about our inventor in Strasbourg. The designation as "Zugeselle" does not mean a full member of the goldsmith guild. Contrary to what is often claimed, Johannes Gutenberg was not a goldsmith as a patrician. The tax list also states that he owned a fortune of over 400 pounds of Strasbourg denarii. Therefore he had to pay half the maintenance costs of a horse for use in the Armagnaken war.

The Armagnaken were armed mercenaries. They were named after the Count of Armagnac, in whose service they originally served. In France they had replaced the traditional army of knights and drove the English out of the country during the French war. The English had invaded France at the side of the Duke of Burgundy. In 1435, after a settlement had been negotiated with Burgundy, the Armagnaces were no longer in use. As a result, they often plundered and robbed the area. In 1444 they invaded the Upper Rhine area.