The name was always written Fust, until 1506 when Peter Schöffer, in dedicating the German translation of Livy to Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor, called his grandfather Faust, and thenceforward the family assumed this name, and the Fausts of Aschaffenburg, an old and quite distinct family, placed Johann Fust in their pedigree. Johann's brother Jacob, a goldsmith, was one of the burgomasters in 1462, when Mainz was stormed and sacked by the troops of Count Adolf II of Nassau, in the course of which he seems to have been killed (suggested by a document dated May 8, 1678).
There is no evidence for the theory that Johann Fust was a goldsmith, but he appears to have been a money-lender or banker. On account of his connection with Johann Gutenberg, he has been called the inventor of printing, and the instructor as well as the partner of Gutenberg. Some see him as a patron and benefactor, who saw the value of Gutenberg's discovery and supplied him with means to carry it out, whereas others portray him as a speculator who took advantage of Gutenberg's necessity and robbed him of the profits of his invention. Whatever the truth, the Helmasperger document of November 6, 1455, shows that Fust advanced money to Gutenberg (apparently 800 guilders in 1450, and another 800 in 1452) to carry on his work, and that Fust, in 1455, brought a suit against Gutenberg to recover the money he had lent, claiming 2026 guilders for principal and interest. It appears that he had not paid in the 300 guilders a year which he had undertaken to furnish for expenses, wages, etc., and, according to Gutenberg, had said that he had no intention of claiming interest.
The suit was apparently decided in Fust's favour, November 6, 1455, in the refectory of the Barefooted Friars of Mainz, when Fust swore that he himself had borrowed 1550 guilders and given them to Gutenberg. There is no evidence that Fust, as is usually supposed, removed the portion of the printing materials covered by his mortgage to his own house, and carried on printing there with the aid of Peter Schöffer of Gernsheim (who is known to have been a scriptor at Paris in 1449), who in about 1455 married Fust's only daughter Christina. Their first publication was the Psalter, August 14, 1457, a folio of 350 pages, the first printed book with a complete date, and remarkable for the beauty of the large initials printed each in two colours, red and blue, from types made in two pieces. New editions of the Psalter were with the same type in 1459 (August 29), 1490, 1502 (Schöffer's last publication) and 1516.
Fust and Schöffer's other works are:
- Guillaume Durand, Rationale divinorum officiorum (1459), folio, 160 leaves
- the Clementine Constitutions, with the gloss of Johannes Andreae (1460), 51 leaves
- Biblia Sacra Latina (1462), folio 2 vols., 242 and 239 leaves, 48 lines to a full page
- the Sixth Book of Decretals, with Andreae's gloss, December 17, 1465, folio 1211 leaves
- Cicero. De officiis, 88 leaves.
In 1464 Adolf II of Nassau appointed for the parish of St Quintin three Baumeisters (master-builders) who were to choose twelve chief parishioners as assistants for life. One of the first of these "Vervaren," who were named on May 1, 1464, was Johannes Fust, and in 1467 Adam von Hochheim was chosen instead of the late (selig) Johannes Fust. Fust is said to have gone to Paris in 1466 and to have died of the plague, which raged there in August and September. He certainly was in Paris on 4 July, when he gave Louis de Lavernade of the province of Forez, then chancellor of the duke of Bourbon and first president of the parliament of Toulouse, a copy of his second edition of Cicero, as appears from a note in Lavernade's own hand at the end of the book, which is now in the library of Geneva.
Nothing further is known about Fust save that, on October 30 (c. 1471), Peter Schöffer, Johann Fust (son), and Schöffer's presumed partner Conrad Henlif (variantly, Henekes or Henckis) instituted an annual mass in the abbey-church of St. Victor of Paris, where Fust was buried. Peter Schöffer, who married Fust's widow (c. 1468), also founded a similar memorial service for Fust in 1473 in the church of the Dominican Order at Mainz (Bockenheimer, Gesch. der Stadt Mainz, iv. 15).
According to some sources, the speed and precise duplication abilities of the printing press caused French officials to claim that Fust was a magician, leading some historians to connect Fust with the legendary character of Faust. Friedrich Maximilian Klinger's Faust, a printer, may borrow more from Fust than other versions of the Faust legend.
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- Edmund Burke (1913). "John Fust". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
- Meggs, Philip B.; Alston W. Purvis (2006). Meggs' History of Graphic Design, Fourth Edition. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. p. 73. ISBN 0-471-69902-0.
- Jensen, Eric (Autumn, 1982). "Liszt, Nerval, and "Faust"". 19th-Century Music (University of California Press) 6 (2): 153.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Fust, Johann". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press