A prelude has been discovered to the history of the introduction of printing into France. L'Abbe Requin, searching through the archives of Avignon, brought to light a series of entries relating to printing, 'ars scribendi artificialiter,' as it is there called, dated as far back as the year 1444.
The information obtained from the notarial books, fairly complete in its way, is as follows: A certain silversmith, named Procopius Waldfoghel of Prague, was settled at Avignon by the beginning of 1444, and was working at printing, in conjunction with a student of the university, Manaudus Vitalis, whom he had supplied with printing materials. In a notarial act of the 4th July of that year, quite a few materials are mentioned.
Waldfoghel was evidently the maker of the materials and the teacher of the art, and he seems to have supplied his apprentices with such tools as would enable them to print for themselves.
In 1444, besides Manaudus Vitalis, Waldfoghel had as apprentices, Girardus Ferrose of Treves, Georgius de la Jardina, Arnaldus de Cosselhac, and Davinus de Cadarossia.
From a document dated 10th March 1446, we learn that Waldfoghel, having two years previously taught the art of printing to Davinus de Cadarossia, had promised to cut for him a set of twenty-seven Hebrew letters and to give him certain other materials. In return for this, Davinus de Cadarossia was to teach him to dye in a particular way all kinds of textile material, and to keep secret all he learnt on the art of printing.
In another document, of 5th April 1446, relating to the partnership of Waldfoghel, Manaudus Vitalis, and Arnaldus de Cosselhac, and the sjelling of his share to the remaining two by Vitalis, we have mention made of nonnulla instrumenta sive artificia causa artificialiter scribendi, tarn de ferro, de callibe, de cupro, de lethono, de plumbo, de stagno et de fuste.
There seems to be no doubt that these various entries refer to printing with movable types; they cannot refer to xylographic printing, nor to stenciling. At the same time, there is no evidence to point to any particular kind of printing; and the various materials mentioned would rather make it appear that the Avignon invention was some method of stamping letters or words from cut type, than printing from cast type in a press. Until some specimen is found of this Avignon work, from which some definite knowledge can be obtained, the question must be left undecided, for it is useless to try to extract from words capable of various renderings any exact meaning. Our information at present is only sufficient to enable us to say that some kind of printing was being practiced at Avignon as early as 1444.
It seems, too, impossible that, had this invention been printing of the ordinary kind, nothing more should have come of the experiment; and we know of no printing in France before 1470.