Friday, 6 March 2015

Gutenberg and printing

As we all know, or at least, thought we know, Gutenberg is the father of modern typography. Now taking a course with the University of Leicester on England in the times of Richard III,  we have reached the chapter on printing. We are now in the 15th century, when printing of manuscripts and books started. To my surprise, there seems to be 'recent events' that indicates that Gutenberg was not the first one with doing moulds in wood. Well, it seems that the 'recent events' refer to research from 2001, so nowadays, it is not so recent.

An article in The New York Times says that the mould printing acknowledge to Gutenberg, was a gradual process that went on 20 years after Gutenberg's first attempts. The mould printing made all letters the same size and you therefore had a print which looked the same. Two scientists have checked the printing of Gutenberg, and can see that there are slight discrepancies in the letters from his printing. They think that he made the moulds of sand. Sand was not durable and could not be reused, and therefore he had to make a new mould every time.

Plantin-Moretus printing shop
"The announcement is causing the kind of excitement among rare-book collectors and scholars that the Super Bowl is generating among sports fans. Some 250 such scholars and collectors are gathered in New York this week for a series of events including the annual meeting of the Bibliographical Society of America. "

Interesting discoveries indeed. When one considers the way printing is done today, it must have been a very cumbersome work in those day. But, how beautiful books they printed. I saw the process when I visited the Plantin-Moretus museum in Antwerp a while ago (see post here) and got an idea how much work was put in.

Not many books today can beat this edition!
From the discussions during the course, many people are asking what will happen to our books in the future? Nobody can enjoy the beautiful books of the past, but today with all the e-books, there might not even be any prints in the future from our times. It is sad. Maybe even the future has to enjoy the books of our past!

Plates done by Rubens! Where do we
have this today?

The lovely library in the house of the printers!


  1. printers had to handset type in 16th cen. england; i've thought that an easily made mistake by a typesetter in a hurry might account for why many scholars think shakespeare's son was named "hamnet" instead of hamlet. i may be overly querolous(sp.)

  2. Interesting, I did not know that his son was called Hamnet. Or the mistake was the other way around? In the video they show in the Plantin-Moretus house, they also state how important the proof readers were. As always. Today, there seem to be less proof readers around and more faults in texts in papers and in books.