“Gutenberg’s Apprentice” is an inky tale of making books, with sweat and soot and metal. While I was writing it, I didn’t give much thought to how the topic might resound with those who make the books we read today. Not, that is, until I made the first of several trips to see my editor and publisher at Harper Books. In a snazzy top-floor conference room I was delighted to discover that the team who’d make and sell my book was stocked with hardcore bibliophiles. One had been to the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz not once, but twice. Another was fresh from a course in the history of the book. The cover designer, Milan Bosic, meanwhile, waved an alphabet sourcebook at me as we ascended in the elevator to the meeting.
He was “beyond excited” he said. I caught a glimpse of a title: The Printer’s Abecedarium. Weeks later, (after I’d swooned appropriately ovehis gorgeous hardcover case and dust jacket) I learned how deeply he’d invested himself in finding typefaces that would convey the world of early printing. Milan didn’t know it at the time, but the Historical Fell type he chose was one of the first metal types cut in England, in the late 17th century. It was carved by hand by a Dutch punch-cutter, one Peter de Walpergen. I felt sure that Peter Schoeffer, Gutenberg’s apprentice and a fine punch-cutter in his own right, would have approved.
Nor did I realize, until I procured a copy of David Godine’s wonderful little blue alphabet book myself, that the beautiful initial capitals that would come to grace my novel had an equally remarkable history. Cue the theme song to the Twilight Zone. The floriated capital M that starts the story (shown above) was the very same M penned by a scribe late in the 15th century on a copy of the last book made by Johann Gutenberg, the Catholicon. Across the centuries, not to mention the Atlantic Ocean, lovers of well-crafted books share common cause.