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Printing

Printing was first conceived and developed in China and Korea. The oldest printed book using woodblock printing, a Korean Buddhist scripture, dates to 751 AD. The oldest surviving book printed using block printing, the Chinese Diamond Sutra, dates to 868. The movable type printer was invented by Bi Sheng in 1041 during Song Dynasty China. The movable type metal printing press was invented in Korea in 1234 by Chwe Yoon Eyee during the Goryeo Dynasty -216 years ahead of Gutenberg in 1450. By the 12th and 13th century many Chinese libraries contained tens of thousands of printed books.

There is little direct evidence, but it is highly probable that the Far East printing technology diffused into Europe through the trade routes from China which went through India and on through the Arabic world.

The name of Gutenberg first appears, in connection with printing, in a law case in Strasbourg in 1439. He is being sued by two of his business partners. Witnesses, asked about Gutenberg's stock, describe a press and a supply of metal type. It sounds as though he is already capable of printing small items of text from movable type, and it seems likely that he must have done so in Strasbourg. But nothing from this period survives.

By the time he is next heard of in connection with printing, he is in Mainz. He borrows 800 guilders in 1450 from Johann Fust with his printing equipment as security. The resulting story of Gutenberg and Fust is a saga in itself.

Gutenberg's great achievement in the story of printing has several components. One is his development of the printing press, capable of applying a rapid but steady downward pressure. The concept of the press is not new. But existing presses (for wine, oil or paper) exert slow pressure - uneconomical in printing.

More significant are Gutenberg's skills with metal (his original trade is that of a goldsmith). These enable him to master the complex stages in the manufacture of individual pieces of type, which involve creating a master copy of each letter, devising the moulds in which multiple versions can be cast, and developing a suitable alloy (type metal) in which to cast them.

All this skilful technology precedes the basic work of printing - that of arranging the individual letters, aligned and well spaced, in a forme which will hold them firm and level to transfer the ink evenly to the paper.

Gutenberg printing press
Gutenberg printing press


An invention as useful as printing, in a Europe of increasing prosperity, readily finds new customers.

The first Italian press is founded in 1464, at the Benedictine town of Subiaco in the papal states. Switzerland has a press in the following year. Printing begins in Venice, Paris and Utrecht in 1470, in Spain and Hungary in 1473, in Bruges in 1474 (on a press owned by Caxton, who moves it to London in 1476), in Sweden in 1483. By the end of the century the craft is well established in every European kingdom except Russia.

During the early decades, German printing predominates. More books are published in Germany than anywhere else (by 1500 there are printers in some sixty German towns); German printers carry the craft secrets abroad; and foreign printers come to Germany to study as apprentices.

The earliest typography is therefore in the black-letter style of contemporary German manuscripts. But by the end of the century the most fashionable and influential printing is being done in Italy, with a corresponding change in appearance.

From the 1470s, when Nicolas Jenson establishes a press there, Venice becomes a city known for the quality of its printing. Its preeminence in the field is firmly established by the end of the century through the publications of Aldus Manutius.

These Venetian printers develop type faces more open and elegant than the German black-letter tradition, deriving them from the scripts of the Italian humanists. In doing so, they provide the book trade with two of its most lasting typographical conventions - roman and italic.

Further information and links:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Printing http://www.historyworld.net/wrldhis/PlainTextHistories.asp?HistoryID=ab78 http://www.juliantrubin.com/bigten/gutenbergmovable.html