Peter Schoeffer was the principal workman of Johannes Gutenberg (1398?-1468), the inventor of the movable type printing press. He helped to form the firm of Fust and Schoeffer after Johann Fust (1400?-1466) foreclosed his mortgage on Gutenberg's printing outfit in 1455. Besides being a founding member of the first publishing firm, Schoeffer was also responsible for many printing innovations such as: dating books, introducing Greek characters in print, developing the art of type-founding, and printing in colors. Furthermore, his success as an entrepreneur helped to solidify the importance of printing in late-medieval Europe.
Little is known of Peter Schoeffer's early history. He was educated at the University of Paris and lived in the city of Mainz in Germany. By the time he began to work for Johannes Gutenberg, Gutenberg had already worked through many of the preliminary stages in his development of the printing press. He began these experiments as early as 1436 while living in the city of Strasbourg. Gutenberg was forced to exile himself in this city due to an anti-aristocratic uprising led by the tradesmen and craftsmen of Mainz.
While Gutenberg came from a wealthy family (his father was an aristocrat and one of the four master accountants of the city of Mainz), Gutenberg needed capital in order to master the art of printing. As a result, he was involved in several lawsuits through the course of his life. The first of these was brought against Gutenberg in 1439 because of a partnership Gutenberg had established between a man named Dritzehn and several others. In return for the payment of a sum of money, Gutenberg agreed to teach these men the secrets of a new art. When Dritzehn died, his brother sued so that he would be admitted to the partnership in place of Dritzehn. While Gutenberg won this case, it provides an example of the extreme interest generated by Gutenberg's early experiments with printing.
A second, and much more important, lawsuit occurred in 1455, well after Gutenberg had established his new art. Johann Fust, who had lent money to Gutenberg, sued because the printer had made no attempt to repay either the interest or the principal. Gutenberg could not pay, and Fust foreclosed, taking over as much of the printing plant as possible. Furthermore, he persuaded Peter Schoeffer, who was, by that point, a skilled craftsman, to enter into a partnership.
Fust the businessman and Schoeffer the craftsman quickly surpassed Gutenberg's successes. The first book published by the firm was a Psalter, or choir book. This was produced in two editions in 1457 and is famous as the first book printed with a date. A Bible appeared in 1462, becoming the first with a publication date included.
After Fust's death in 1466, Schoeffer continued the business under his own name. He retained close ties with the Fust family, however. He was in partnership with Fust's sons, and was married to Fust's daughter, Christine. In 1467 he printed a version of Thomas Aquinas under his own name, thus marking the beginning of his leadership of the firm. Furthermore, in 1470, he issued the first bookseller's advertisement of available printed books.
Schoeffer's business continuously expanded. While he continued to print books in Mainz, and to experiment with printing techniques, he also devoted considerable energy to extending his business throughout Europe. Because of Schoeffer, Gutenberg's technology was widely applied and practiced, and the products of the press widely distributed and sold.