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  1. Exhibitions
  2. Permanent exhibition
  3. Highlights


The permanent exhibition of the Gutenberg Museum hosts a wealth of unique treasures and exciting stories. You should not miss out on these highlights.

1. The Gutenberg Bibles in the vault

The central exhibits of the collection and possibly its main treasures can be found in the vault of the permanent exhibition – two bibles from the workshop of Johannes Gutenberg. Both the complete two-volume Shuckburgh copy (1452-55), as well as a volume of the Laubach copy (1452-55) can be admired and compared in the vault.

To this day, the Bibles constitute the "magnum opus" of Johannes Gutenberg's work. Gutenberg's method of letterpress printing with movable type was implemented with exceptional quality in this work. The development of letterpress printing subsequently led to a veritable revolution for the sciences, economy, and culture, serving as a milestone of the modern era and human history.

To this day, the Gutenberg Bible is considered to be among the world's most beautiful printed books.

Location: Vault on the 2nd floor

2. The most beautiful book of the Renaissance era

One of the most beautiful and mysterious books of the 15th century is Francesco Colonna's "Hypnerotomachia Poliphilii" (Poliphilo's Strife of Love in a Dream ), which can be found in the incunabula section of the permanent exhibition. The wood cuttings in the Italian Renaissance style harmonize perfectly with the typography.

The used typeface is a humanistic Antiqua, for which the Venetian printer Aldus Manutius, whose print shop published the book in 1499, was famous. On many pages the text is composed in contours and shapes, i.e. arranged in the shape of vases, hearts or triangles, which adds to the decorative style of the pages.

Location: 1st floor

3. The Gutenberg workshop

In 1925, for the first time a reconstructed "Gutenberg workshop" was set up, and quickly evolved into one of the museum's main attractions. At the workshop premises in the basement of the Gutenberg Museum, type casting, type setting and printing on the wooden Gutenberg printing press is demonstrated descriptively and expertly to this day.

The reconstructed Gutenberg printing press is based on woodcuttings from the 15th and 16th century. There are hourly demonstrations at the Gutenberg workshop throughout the year. For comprehensive information, see the section Regular events.

Location: Lower ground floor

4. The "Columbian Press" of 1824

In the late 18th century construction of the first full metal printing presses commenced. Their sturdy design allowed printing even very heavy forms using a lever bar. Following Wilhelm Haas (Basel 1772) and the Earl of Stanhope (London around 1800) in 1810 the US citizen George Clymer succeeded in building such a printing press. His "Columbian Press" reduced the effort required for printing to such a degree that even children could operate the press, as the advertising rightfully claimed.

In addition to this work facilitation for printers the "Columbian" also boasted a magnificent exterior, which played a significant part in the success and popularity of this printing press. For example, the counterweight on the upper lever is designed as a bald eagle with two ink balls, the heraldic animal of the letterpress printers' guild. In 1817 George Clymer was granted a patent in England and started to build and sell his presses from there to the European market. The Columbian press in the Gutenberg Museum is one of the few printing presses that were manufactured under license in Germany at the steel works of the city of Zorge. In combination with the inking of the print forms with hand rollers instead of the former ink balls, the press increased the hourly output to 300 to 400 prints.

Location: 1st floor, printing presses section

5. The press history section

In 1605, the world's first printed newspaper was published in Strasbourg – a modest little publication of only four pages. Since then, the appearance and function of the medium has changed significantly. The press history section of the permanent exhibition traces this development based on selected examples from the history of newspapers and their printing technology.

A particularly interesting part of the section presents measures for communication control, i.e. censorship, of the press. It features many instruments of the institutional and content control of public opinion formation as well as historic censorship regulations. Exhibits range from the emergence of the periodic press after 1605, via ecclesiastical and secular control mechanisms during the 17th and 18th centuries, the Vormärz (eve of the 1848 German revolution), the 1848 March Revolution in the states of the German Confederation, the Reichspressegesetz (press act) of 1874, the so-called consolidation of the press during National Socialism, up to Article 5 of the German Basic Constitutional Law, which guarantees freedom of expression in speech, writing, and pictures: "There shall be no censorship."

Location: 3rd floor 

6. German Bookbinding Museum

The German "Bookbinding Museum" is a special section of the permanent exhibition and is a museum within the museum. It provides comprehensive information about the history and methods of the art of bookbinding , the history of book covers, leaf gilding with real gold, and the many options for stitching and endband puncturing.

In addition, information about the former guild of bookbinders is vividly presently. Initiated in 1962 by the "Deutsche Buchbinder Museum e.V." organization, this section of the permanent exhibition is Germany's largest and most comprehensive exhibition of its kind.

Location: 4th floor

7. "Dharani-Sutra" – one of the world's oldest examples of woodblock printing

The treasures of the East-Asian section include a "Dharani Sutra", a Buddhist text scroll printed from a woodblock. Traditionally, such scrolls were kept in small timber pagodas. The "Dharani Sutra" of the Gutenberg Museum goes back to the Nara era (710 to 794) and has been dated to around 770. This makes it one of the world's oldest examples of woodblock printing.

According to specialist sources, Empress Shotoku had a million three-storey pagodas built around the year 770. The text of a Dharani Sutra was inserted into the round hollow spaces of each of these small pagodas. The pagodas were then distributed by the ten largest Buddhist temples of the time to temples across the country.

"Dharani" denotes a collection of mystical mantras. "Sutra" are important holy books of Buddhism. The Sutra was printed with a woodblock, which, according to latest findings, was used like a stamp, i.e. the printing plate was lowered onto the paper from above.

Location: 2nd floor, East Asia section

The vault of the Gutenberg Museum with the Gutenberg Bibles in showcases 2 to 4. Gutenberg-Museum, Mainz, Foto: Carsten Costard
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