The Letterpress

It all began with Joann Gutenberg. Before the 1400’s any kind of print would require an immense amount of skill as it involved carving scripture into wooden blocks, carving the space around the glyphs away so only the text was risen, they would then be inked and paper would be placed on top and pressure would be added to create an impression of the page. This was a long and tedious process as each page would require it’s own wooden block. Now, I wouldn’t use impatient as a word to describe myself usually, but the required patience to complete this process sounds crazy to me; it would be extremely time consuming. However, this was a better process than what they did before; transcripting by hand. This way the books would be easier to copy, nonetheless, both of these methods sound immense compared to today where a one click of a button can fix type into boxes automatically.

Gutenberg took the idea of this process and created it in individual glyphs. This made for reusable lettering that could be rearranged. However, this wouldn’t cut it for Gutenberg as the words wouldn’t always be clear- and, as we know, clarity within type is fundamental. So, he set out to create metal glyphs instead. With steel he created uppercase and lowercase letters, as well as punctuation symbols. Letters and symbols would be assembled on a wooden forme* to create an entire page of text, including spacers and lead rules. To transfer these from forme* to paper, Gutenberg used a lacquer-like* ink he created out of walnut oil, turpentine and soot. I must say, he really did go all out.

His invention was known as the “Handpress”, or the “Screw press”. More importantly, it was this very machine that was used to print 180 copies of the Bible. Maybe, if they didn’t, the world today would be a more relaxed place, but, who am I to speculate. The Bible consisted of 42 lines of text in two columns on each page. Two volumes that totaled 1,282 pages that took 20 staff two to three years to complete; amazing. 48 copies of these Bibles can still be found in museums today. Not only did these Bible’s closely resemble a manuscript with a typeface that mimics the periodic handwriting, it also had illustrations that were painted by hand. They also included a lot of decorative drop caps which I am rather impartial to. Here is an example of the Gutenberg bible:







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