History of Printing - Early Printing

Book Wheel 1588
Mans earliest known attempt at a visual record of his life and times dates back 30,000

years. Drawings, which were known as pictographs, were superseded by the more complex ideographs of later humans. As the years progressed, the ideographs were replaced by the Persians’ cuneiforms, and then by hieroglyphics which were perfected by the Egyptians around the year 2500 BC. Ten centuries later; the Phoenicians used the first formal alphabet and then it was the Greeks... These were all art forms and not printing, which is the reproduction of art forms in quantity.

The first forms of printing started with the printer carving out characters out of wood blocks to form printable "plate". The wood block was then inked and the substrate pressed against the wood block. The only problem with this type of process was that the characters within the block could not be changed. After printing with the block, it had to be discarded. As the writings changed, so did the block.

Printing with movable type appeared in China and Korea in the 11th Century. In 1041, a Chinese named, Pi-Sheng, developed type characters from hardened clay but was not totally successful. In the middle 1200’s, type characters cast from metal (bronze) had been developed in Japan and China. The oldest known text printed from this type of metal type dates to the year 1397 AD.

Half a century later in 1440, probably unaware of the crude type developed in the Orient, Johannes Gutenberg introduced to the Western world his invention of printing with ink on paper, using movable type mounted on a converted wine press. Until Gutenberg’s invention, all books were laboriously handwritten by scribes. Little wonder that historians credit his invention of printing as coinciding with the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Renaissance and Modem History.

Paper and printing ink were not new when Gutenberg’s cast moveable type appeared. A Chinese named, Ts’ai Lun, is credited with the invention of paper in 105 AD. By the time Gutenberg was born, paper making was a well-developed industry throughout the Western world with paper mills existing in Spain, France, Italy and Germany. The Chinese also led the world in making ink for printing. We credit the envisionment of commercial and cultural possibilities of printing as a process of graphic reproduction to Gutenberg.


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