Recently I found a note on my Facebook page from Christina Scheffer in Sweden, a descendant of the real Peter Schoeffer of Gernsheim. The printer’s great-great-grandson Johannes, it turns out, made his way to Sweden in 1642 at the request of Queen Kristina, bringing with him “a wealth of books, well needed to build the library at Uppsala University.” I consider it a fitting tribute to his ancestor Peter that this educated man became a professor of “eloquence and government” thereafter. The Mainz printer Peter Schoeffer’s wife Christina, it appears, lent her name down the nine Swedish generations to the current holder of the name—as did his grandson Ivo, who carried on Peter’s print shop in Mainz.
The legacy of this man is interesting: it touches on one of the most contentious questions in printing history. His son Johannes continued Peter’s print shop when his father died in 1503, and slowly but surely, tarnished Peter Schoeffer’s name by claiming the invention for Fust and Schoeffer alone. By the time that lie was put to rest in the 18th century, the damage to Gutenberg’s collaborators was done. I can’t but help believe that Peter Schoeffer would have been appalled at his son’s falsification.
The evidence suggests that Peter Schoeffer was a modest man. He was devout, and of sufficient gravity to be appointed a city judge. He made no wild claims about his own contribution. Only a few records of this survive: one is Trithemius’ own account of how Peter told him, circa 1485, that “he had found a faster way to cast the letters.” The second is the colophon he had printed at the back of his 1470 edition of the Letters of Jerome. His description of the history could not be clearer:
“Praise to He who gave man art, who gave it also to the excellent masters in the art of lettercutting, both Johannes, Gutenberg and Fust, these two who turned Mainz into the first city to cast type. With them was Schoeffer, who later broke beyond them, met and exceeded those same goals. Thanks to his ability and determination, a gift of God, he exceeded his forbears in the art of lettercutting.”
My novel tries to do justice to all three men, whom their contemporaries referred to as the “Holy Trinity” of printing. But of course, I’m partial to Peter (even if I adopt the English form of Schoeffer over Schöffer). After all, he was the artist of the three—and beyond his incomparable typographic legacy, and all those Swedish and German descendants, he left another enduring bequest. Raise a toast: it’s Schöfferhoffer beer, originally brewed in the Schöfferhof printing works in Mainz. Proof that from printing, all good things flow.