Louis Braille was a student and teacher at the Institut des jeunes aveugles in Paris, founded in 1784, where the need for the blind to have access to literature was first appreciated and the use of embossed printing had been developed. In 1786 the school’s founder, Valentin Haüy, published his Essai sur l’éducation des aveugles, the first book to contain embossed printing.
Naturally enough, the printing was done following the letterforms that pupils learnt in handwriting lessons. In 1817 Haüy was followed as head of the Institut by Sébastien Guillié, who published a book about the education of the blind as well as an embossed book, Elemens de lecture (Paris 1820), illustrated here. Louis Braille first described his own system of cells of six raised dots in 1829 in a book printed in Guillié’s types; the first book in braille was printed in 1837. But while braille was being developed, knowledge of embossed printing spread to the British Isles. Haüy’s work was translated by the blind Scots poet Thomas Blacklock and printed at the end of the Edinburgh 1793 edition of his poems. In 1832 a competition was held in Edinburgh for the best proposal for a method of printing for the blind.
Further information and links:The History of Reading Codes for the Blind
Callahan Museum of the American Printing House for the Blind