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Portrait of J. Gutenberg Portrait of L. Coster

The controversy over who invented the art of printing has been around for hundreds of years. Today, the invention is attributed to Johann Gutenberg (c.1400-1468), but at one time, the prevailing view was that the true inventor of printing was Laurens J. Coster (c.1370-1440) of the Netherlands. Kölnische Chronik (The Cologne Chronicle), published in 1499, states that this prototype was invented in the Netherlands and that Donatus's Ars minor was printed there much earlier than in Mainz. H.Junius's Batavia, published in 1588, states that "Laurens of Haarlem printed a grammar book in 1442." A 17th-century theory proposed that Coster printed books and documents using wood blocks, and in the 18th century, a number of researchers asserted that Coster used wooden type for printing. The results of a study by A. van der Linde presented in 1870, however, indicated that Coster as a printer was fictitious, and he concluded that attributing the invention of printing to the Dutchman was a mere legend.

Some 200 titles of primitive printed material, including Donatus's Ars minor, Alexander de Villa Dei's Doctrinale, Speculum humanae salvationis and Homer's Iliados epitome, which were believed to have been printed by Coster, were referred to as "Costeriana." Today, however, studies conducted on the paper and type of these materials has revealed that these items were all printed between 1463 and 1480, and that the printer has become called the "Prototypographer" after the fashion of M.F.A.G. Campbell, a Dutch incunabula researcher of the late 19th century.

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