Week 5

The History of the Book

"When I get a little money, I buy books; and if any is left, I buy food and clothes" (Desiderius Erasmus, 1465-1536).

"The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them" (Mark Twain).

"...for the abundance of good books which, we hope, will finally put to flight all ignorance" (Aldus Manutius, 1450-1515)


"Every written language was invented long after spoken language began. In fact, not all languages have a written form" (Good, vol. 13 p. 31).

The two sources of most languages in Europe and the Americas are the Indo-European and the Indo-Iranian languages. From Indo-European came the Celtic languages (like Welsh and Irish), the Romance languages (like French and Italian--derived from Latin), the Germanic languages (like English and Swedish), the Balto-Slavic languages (like Lithuanian), and the Slavic languages (like Russian and Polish). From the Indo-Iranian language came the Iranian languages (like Persian), and the Indic languages (like Hindi, and Urdu) (Good, vol. 13 p. 40).

Some languages developed alphabets, others (like Chinese and Japanese) remained essentially pictographic. "The writings of the Phoenicians in Byblos [around 1000 BC] had great influence on" the development of the Latin Alphabet (Good, vol. 1 p. 315).

"The most important writing derived from the Phoenician is Greek, the forerunner of all Western alphabets. All indications favor the 9th Century BC as the time when the greeks borrowed Phoenician writing, but this is still in some doubt. The Greeks took over from the Phoenicians the forms and names of signs, the order of the signs in the alphabet, and the direction of the writing" (Good, vol. 1 p. 317) The early Greeks actually wrote in four directions, left to right, right to left, top to bottom, and alternating between left to right and right to left. Hebrew and Arabic are still written right to left.


"The earliest records were scratched on bark or leather or chiseled on stone, wood, or other durable materials. The Babylonians impressed characters on clay tablets and then baked them hard" (Good, vol. 3 p. 345).

"The earliest known books were the clay tablets of Mesopotamia and the papyrus rolls of Egypt. Examples of both date from the early 3rd millennium BC" (Winger, p. 871).

Books on Clay Tablets -- "The ancient Sumerians, Babylonians, Assyrians and Hitites wrote on [clay] tablets... While the clay was still set, the writer used a stylus to inscribe it with cuneiform characters. By writing on every surface in small characters, he could copy a substantial text on a single tablet. For longer texts he used several tablets" (Winger, p. 871).

"One estimate placed the number of clay tablets recovered [by archeologists] at 750,000, but new finds continually add to the total of survivals that represent this book production of 2,000 years" (Winger, p. 870).

The Egyptian Papyrus Roll -- "The papyrus roll of ancient Egypt is more nearly the direct ancestor of the modern book... and it is of about equal antiquity. Papyrus as a writing material resembles paper. It was made from a reedy plant of the same name which flourished in the Nile valley...

"Papyrus affected the style of writing just as clay tablets had done. Scribes wrote on it with a reed pen and inks of different colours. The result could be very decorative, especially when done in the monumental hieroglyphic style of writing... The Egyptians created two cursive hands, the hieratic (priestly) and the demotic (commercial), which were better adapted to papyrus... Compared to bricks, papyrus is fragile" yet examples survive from as early as 2500 BC due to the extreme dryness of the Egyptian desert (Winger, p. 870).

Greek and Roman Books

"For brief writings the Greeks and the Romans used small wax tablets. These were made of small boards with narrow raised frames at the edges. A thin coating of wax, usually black, was laid over the sunken part of the wood. Letters were scratched with a stylus through the black wax so that the light-colored wood showed in the strokes. The tablets could be bound together with thongs or metal rings through holes in their edges. Such a group of tablets was called in Latin a codex" (Good, vol. 3 p. 345).

"Long documents and books were written by hand on sheets of papyrus. These were glued together by the side margins to form a roll 5 to 12 inches wide and 15 to 40 feet long, with writing only on one side. The Romans called such a roll volumen, from which the word volume is derived" (Good, vol. 3 p. 345).

"Usually the papyrus was rolled around a bright painted, gilded stick, or umbilicus, with knobs at both ends. To the top of the roll was attached a slip of vellum giving the title of the work and the author's name. Each roll was kept in a cylindrical parchment case. In reading, a person held the roll in his right hand and unrolled it column by column. Meanwhile, with his left hand he rolled up on another roller the part he had read. When the reader reached the end of the roll, he rewound the volume tightly upon the umbilicus by holding the roll beneath his chin and turning with both hands" (Good, vol. 3 p. 345).

Papyrus Archive to have a look at an early papyrus document, click on this link and scroll down to BROWSE BY LANGUAGE; click on GREEK; scroll down to 451 and click on "Orders and Receipts"; click on "order to supply oil"; click on image to enlarge

"The forerunner of parchment as a writing material was leather. Egyptian sources refer to documents written on leather as early as 2450 BC..." (Good, vol. 3 p. 345).

"Although papyrus was the material for most ancient books, special copies were often written on vellum or parchment. Vellum was made from calfskin. Parchment, a coarser material, was made from the skins of sheep and goats. The skins were not tanned but were prepared by careful washing and then covered with lime to loosen the hair. After the hair was removed, each skin was stretched on a frame, scraped, dusted with sifted chalk, and polished with pumice. Vellum is probably the longest-lasting and the most beautiful material ever used for books" (Good, vol. 3 p. 345).

Greek Books -- "During the Golden Age of Athens in the 5th century BC, books were known and used but were lightly regarded as avenues of learning... It was an age of brilliant talk... the preferred method of publication at that time was oral. The actor, the orator, the rhapsodist and the lecturer were supreme" (Winger, p. 871).

"... the record indicates that the volume of Greek literature was much larger than the survivals, a majority of the texts having been lost. Literary and bibliographical references made by ancient writers and bibliographers indicate, for example, that the dramatists Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes wrote among them about 330 plays. The survivals number 43. Nearly all of Greek lyric poetry has been lost" (Winger, p. 871).

Roman Books -- "Book ownership was widespread among Romans of the upper class. Private libraries were common and were considered the necessary badge of distinction for anyone who aspired to high position or social importance.

"The Romans developed a book trade on a fairly large scale. From the time of Cicero there is evidence of large scriptoria turning out copies of books for sale" (Winger, p. 871).

The Romans used books for education, for religion, for the law, and for history and popular tales. Affordable books were to be had from scriptoria employing slaves as scribes.


"For nearly a thousand years after the fall of Rome all books were laborously written out by hand. The pens were made from a reed or a quill from the wing of a large bird. These pens were cut with a broad end or nib, shaped like a chisel, unlike the fine-pointed pens now in use. The full width of the pen was used when it was drawn downward, producing a wide stroke. Only the fine edge of the nib was used when it was drawn crosswise. This produced a hairline stroke... The various forms of modern type letters still reflect the thick and thin strokes which the broad-nibbed pen gave them, for type letters were derived from the old manuscript letters" (Good, vol. 3 p. 345).

"Most medieval manuscripts were the work of monks. In some monasteries the scribes worked at separate desks placed in a large room called the scriptorium" (Good, vol. 3 p. 346).

The Monasteries -- "The dissolution of the western Roman empire during the 5th century, and the consequent dominance of marauding barbarians, threatened the existence of books. Fortunately the Church withstood the assaults and remained as a stable agency which could provide the security and interest in tradition required by a bookish scholarship. Books found refuge in monasteries. The 6th-century rule of St. Benedict enjoined monks to read books at certain times [each day]. The surrounding social chaos placed upon monasteries the responsibility for making books and creating libraries in order to implement [the Benedictine rule]" (Winger, p. 873).

"Following the early examples, monastic houses throughout the middle ages characteristically had libraries and scriptoria where they copied books to add to their collections" (Winger, p. 872).

"The medieval book, or codex, consisted of leaves bound up in order as are printed books... Unlike papyrus, which was so thin that only one side could be used, vellum was thick enough to allow writing on both sides" (Good, vol. 3 p. 346).

"The substitution of the codex for the roll was a revolutionary change in the form of the book. The codex is the modern form of the book" (Winger, p. 872).

"Many medieval manuscripts attained a high perfection of colour and form and are renowned for their beauty. Such examples as the Book of Kells from Ireland, the Lindisfarne Gospels from England and the many brilliant "books of hours" made in France, to cite a few instances, are world renowned as exmples of art" (Winger, p. 873).

Binding -- After the scribe had completed a book, "the sections of the book were sent to the binder, who sewed the sections through the back folds with cords. Wooden covers slightly larger than the leaves were made and the ends of the sewing cords were laced through holes in the boards to bind together the sections and the covers. Next a large piece of leather was glued over the back of the sections and the wooden sides. Sometimes this cover was decorated with patterns pressed into the leather with heated metal stamps. Because vellum wrinkles when it gets very dry, strips of leather with clasps were attached to the front edges of the boards so that the vellum leaves might be kept flat under pressure" (Good, vol. 3 p. 346).

Silent Reading -- "The literature of the day was meant above all to be recited or read aloud to an audience" (Febure & Martin, p. 23). "Because books were mainly read out loud, the letters that composed them did not need to be separated into phonetic unities, but were strung together in continuous sentences. The direction in which the eyes were supposed to follow these reels of letters varied from place to place and from age to age; the way we read a text today in the Western world-from left to right and from top to bottom-is by no means universal. Some scripts were read from right to left (Hebrew and Arabic), others in columns, from top to bottom (Chinese and Japanese); a few were read in pairs of vertical columns (Mayan); some had alternate lines read in opposite directions, back and forth-a method called boustrophedon, "as an ox turns to plough", in ancient Greek. Yet others meandered across the page like a game of Snakes and Ladders, the direction being signalled by lines or dots (Aztec)" (Manguel).

As a result of being read aloud, most manuscripts used only capital letters [lower case letter being an innovation of the medieval scribes], did not separate words [because it would become obvious when read aloud], and used no punctuation until about the 9th century (Robbins).

"Ancient Greek manuscripts separated units of text by a horizontal line called a paragraphos, so those units came to be called "paragraphs." The policy of indenting the beginning of paragraphs was standard by the 17th century; the Greeks sometimes began paragraphs with an outdent, sometimes called a hanging indent. . . . Some Roman monuments might have centered dots between words. . . . " (Robbins).

"The separation of letters into words and sentences developed very gradually. Most early scripts - Egyptian hieroglyphs, Sumerian cuneiform, Sanskrit-had no use for such divisions... the monks in the scriptorium made use of a writing method known as "per cola et commata," in which the text was divided into lines of sense--a primitive form of punctuation that helped the unsteady reader lower or raise the voice at the end of a block of thought. (This format also helped a scholar seeking a certain passage to find it with greater ease.) It was Saint Jerome who, at the end of the fourth century, having discovered this method in copies of Demosthenes and Cicero, first described it in his introduction to his translation of the Book of Ezekiel, explaining that "what is written per cola et commata conveys more obvious sense to the readers"" (Manguel).

"Punctuation remained unreliable, but these early devices no doubt assisted the progress of silent reading. By the end of the sixth century, Saint Isaac of Syria was able to describe the benefits of the method: "I practice silence, that the verses of my readings and prayers should fill me with delight. ...And in the mid-seventh century, the theologian Isidore of Seville was sufficiently familiar with silent reading to be able to praise it as a method for "reading without effort, reflecting on that which has been read, rendering their escape from memory less easy"" (Manguel).

"After the seventh century, a combination of points and dashes indicated a full stop, a raised or high point was equivalent to our comma, and a semicolon was used as we use it today. By the ninth century, silent reading was probably common enough in the scriptorium for scribes to start separating each word from its encroaching neighbours to simplify the perusal of a text... At about the same time, the Irish scribes, celebrated throughout the Christian world for their skill, began isolating not only parts of speech but also the grammatical constituents within a sentence, and introduced many of the punctuation marks we use today" (Manguel).

Most punctuation came into use in the 13th century (Reimer). Silent reading became common in the 9th century. "All forms of punctuation became standardized with printing" (Robbins).

Censorship -- Some dogmatists became wary of the new trend [of silent reading; in their minds, silent reading allowed for day-dreaming, for the danger of accidie- the sin of idleness, "the destruction that wasteth at noonday". But silent reading brought with it another danger the Christian fathers had not foreseen. A book that can be read privately, reflected upon as the eye unravels the sense of the words, is no longer subject to immediate clarification or guidance, condemnation or censorship by a listener. Silent reading allows unwitnessed communication between the book and the reader, and the singular a refreshing of the mind", in Augustine's happy phrase" (Manguel).

First Century AD

The Lingua Franca [look up the term] across the Eastern half of the extended Roman empire was Greek. Between 700 and 900 AD a major change occurred... "a great divide in the culture of the Greek book. During this period, the new minuscule bookhand [look up these terms] gradually replaced older majuscule hands [look up this term] for literary and liturgical purposes. Scribes and scholars collaborated on what amounted to a vast transliteration project--one so massive that few classical texts that were not re-copied at this time now survive, except in the form of epitomes [look up this term]. The change from majuscule to minuscule had a tremendous impact on the form and mise-en-page [look up this term] of Greek books" (Grafton & Williams, 101).

Library at Caesarea (on the Palestine coast)


In the Twelfth Century two great changes occurred. First, universities came into existence. Second, an innovation occurred which would later make printing possible: paper was introduced from China via the Arabs. "It did not replace parchment, but supplemented it and made possible the production of less expensive books...

Medieval paper was more fragile than parchment, had a rougher surface, and was less impervious to ink and less amenable to the pigments used by the illuminators. On the other hand it was lighter in weight. But less than might be imagined, since parchment of great delicacy was being produced in the 13th century, even thinner than the paper of the same period" (Febure & Martin, p. 16).

"The process [of making paper] scarcely changed from the 14th to the 18th century... The raw material used, old rags, was obtained from specialised dealers, who collected it and brought it to the mill, where it was then sorted. For the best quality paper, printing paper particularly, a flimsy white rag was essential and it had to be separated from the tougher fabrics. After the sorting came the steeping of the rags, which were chopped into small pieces and left in selected places, usually cellars, to ferment. In this process the fatty substances were forced out and the cellulose gradually separated. The raw stuff was then brought to the mill, usually a water mill which had been used to grind corn before its conversion for papermaking. In the milling machine the main shaft had little levers which brought the small wooden mallets into operation, pounding up and down in the beating troughs which contained the treated rags. The mallets employed in the preliminary, reducing, stages of this process were fitted with nails or tiny knives.

"The rags were finally reduced in water containing a carefully measured quantity of soap, to produce a paste of determinate thickness which ended as pulp. This was fed into a vat of warm water of a fixed temperature. Into this vat there was then inserted a form -- a wooden frame encasing a lattice of brass wires which allowed the water to drip away while retaining a layer of pulp. The form was shaken to distribute the pulp evenly before drying. After they had begun to dry, the sheets which resulted were pulled away by a workman called a coucheur who spread them on felt that absorbed more water. Next, the sheets of paper and felt were repeatedly squeezed under a tight press and then the sheets were again taken to the 'little' hanging room where they dried in the air. However, sheets used in this state would drink up ink and so they needed coating with a size, which gave a smooth finish. Lastly the sheets were dried in a 'great' hanging room and were sent for final texturing, and finishing with flint. The paper was gathered into reams of 25 sheets, and into bundles of 20 reams, after which it was ready for delivery to market" (Diderot).

"To make paper, water was essential, and pure water at that. It was needed to turn the beaters and to make the pulp. According to Briquet one kilo of paper would need some 2,000 litres of water(Janot, Vol. 1, p. 60).

Christianity and the Book -- "...from the first four centuries AD.. codices more often contained Christian writings, while pagan works were usually written on rolls. [In addition to the obvious advantages of the codex form, the] "intention of early Christians to alienate themselves from pagan literature [was central to their adoption of the new format]. The use of an entirely different form of book contributed to a sense of proper removal. At the same time the clinging of the pagan authors to an outmoded form may be ascribed in part to a conservative resistance to the Christian ideas" (Winger, p. 872).

Revival of the Secular Book Trade -- "An expansion in book production was notable with the rise of the universities in the 12th century. Much of the impetus of the universities came from a revived interest in the writings of the Greeks of antiquity, which were studied mainly in Latin translation. Around the universities, which were located in the cities, grew up a demand for books. University stationers supplied the demand. The stationers were controlled by the universities, which framed regulations about the content and size of books and set prices for sale and for rental" (Winger, p. 873).


"...at the beginning of the 13th century... the monasteries were no longer the sole producers of books of all kinds... Intellectual life was now centred outside the monasteries, and it was in the universities that scholars, teachers and students, working in co-operation with artisans and craftsmen, organised an active book trade" (Febure & Martin, p. 19).

"The professors needed texts for their courses, along with works of reference, and commentaries... It was.. indispensable for them to have these works conveniently to hand, and the university would have to provide a library where they could consult them" (Febure & Martin, p. 19).

"... professional copyists.. appeared in increasing numbers around the universities. In each university town a Guild of Scriveners or Stationers came to be formed, consisting of clerks in holy orders and also often of laymen" (Febure & Martin, p. 20).


Shortly before the invention of the printing press came Xylography, the creation of pictures using inked wood-cuts. These were used to create playing cards, picture sheets to be hung on the wall or collected, and "block-books," a collection of pictures which told a story. Block-books and playing cards became very popular in the early fifteenth century and Xylography became a rather extensive trade in Europe. "The pictures cut for the block-books are exactly the same as the wood-cuts used in the earliest printed books" (Febure & Martin, p. 48). The same process is used today to created wood-cut pictures in some books.

The invention and development of papermaking was also a necessary precursor of printing.


Early pioneers in printing were goldsmiths, engravers of medallions, metal founders and die-stamp makers (Febure & Martin, p. 50).

"How, in the middle of the 15th century, did Gutenberg and his contemporaries succeed in mastering the many technical difficulties which the invention of printing must have posed?" (Febure & Martin, p. 45).

"..from the beginning of the 15th century, the techniques of casting from moulds... and that of die stamping were both known... All that was lacking was the idea of adapting the technique to printing... Probably the inventors tried various devices, only gradually arriving at the final solution... the first experimenters, finding that a page made up of so many moveable letters was unstable, and that it was incredibly difficult to hold the characters together firmly to form a level surface suitable for inking, probably tried to overcome the difficulties by casting whole pages en bloc from a single mould" (Febure & Martin, p. 51).

Another problem was the creation of the letters or type needed. "Not only did the printer need a foolproof method of making them with the aid of punches and moulds, but he had to find metals and alloys tough-enough not to damage the punch when struck, and a matrix that would not melt when the alloy was in the fluid state and on the point of fusion" (Febure & Martin, p. 57). The bottom line was that "type tended to wear quickly" (Febure & Martin, p. 58). "Soon specialists began to emerge in the new crafts associated with printing. They travelled from workshop to workshop, hiring their services out to masters who wanted to top up their stocks of letters or to refurbish them" (Febure & Martin, p. 59).

"About the year 1450 some rather unusual 'manuscripts' made their appearance in the northern regions of Western Europe. Although not very different in appearance from traditional manuscripts, they were 'impressed' on paper, sometimes on vellum, with the mechanical aid of a printing press which used moveable type... these new books were to cause profound changes" (Febure & Martin, p. 9).

Florentine Fifteenth Century Printing

"Mainz [Germany] was without any doubt the cradle of the first printing industry and its evolution is linked with three names: Gutenberg, the man named in the Strasbourg legal suit, Johann Fust, a rich citizen who was his financier, and Peter Schoeffer, a former student of the University of Paris who was probably a copyist and a calligrapher before turning printer... on the 14th October 1457, the first work which can be dated came from the press, the Mainz Psalter, the work of Fust and his new associate, Schoeffer" (Febure & Martin, p. 55).

"The perfect execution of the Psalter proves that it was no first attempt. Some early copies of Donatus, and some German astronomical calendars, suggest that printing had already been going on as a trade since 1450 at the latest, and it is possible that Gutenberg had produced some printing before his return to Mainz, particularly during his partnership with Fust. Was it when Gutenberg's experiments had finally come to something that Fust took the opportunity of ridding himself of an inventor who had become an embarrassment and whom he could replace with one of his assistants, Peter Schoeffer, who knew his master's secrets but was perhaps more amenable and possessed more business acumen? If so, Gutenberg appears to be the typical genius, stripped of the secret to which he had devoted years of his life. Did he continue to work after his rupture with Fust? What happened to him?... We know very little about him after 1455" (Febure & Martin, p. 55).

The Fifteenth Century Book Be sure to click on the links at the end. Also, click on the books pictured on the right side for a closer look at them

Fifteenth Century Printed Books Browse through the site.

"The earliest [printed] incunabula [look up the term] looked exactly like manuscripts. The first printers, far from being innovators, took extreme care to produce exact imitations. The 42-line Bible for example was printed in a letter-type which faithfully reproduced the handwriting of the Rhenish missals" (Febure & Martin, p. 77). ("...the first exemplars [of printing] were fittingly identified as incunabula, the Latin plural of "cradle," to designate the book's infancy. From the publication of Gutenberg's Bible in 1455 to the end of the fifteenth century is what print historians call the true incunabula period" (Barolini, p. 5)).

The Gutenberg Bible scroll down the page and click on the following links and read: (1) "Digital Gutenberg images"; (2) "The book before Gutenberg"; (3) "Johann Gutenberg"; (4) "The printing of the Bible"; (5)"The Spread of Printing"; (6) "The appearance of the Bible"; (7) "Anatomy of a page"

A related problem was composition of the press before printing began. "...hand composition, used less and less today... hardly changed since the beginning of printing [until replaced by machines in the 19th century]... the compositor stands in front of a 'case', a large wooden cabinet subdivided into a series of pigeon holes each containing a different letter or sign. He takes out the letters one at a time and places them in his composing 'stick', a small slotted receptacle, formerly wooden, now metal. When a line of type has been assembled in the stick (i.e. 'composed') the compositor places it in a 'galley', a small tray in which the lines of type are held, with a 'lead' between each line (the leads are small lead pieces which do not register and which keep the lines apart). He then groups the lines into pages and assembles the pages in the forme where they are secured with wooden wedges and firmly tied together" (Febure & Martin, p. 61).

An interesting side note: In the process of composition, letters are taken from the case in which at the top are located upper case or capital letters. At the bottom, nearer the compositor, are the lower case letters (Febure & Martin, p. 63).

Actual printing, after composing, was called impression. "The essential equipment for making the impression of type on paper was of course the press... this hardly changed from the mid-16th to the late 18th century. The principle was simple. The forme -- a set of several pages of type held together so that the characters could not get out of position -- was placed on the bed or press stone, originally made of smooth and polished marble but replaced in the 18th century by a steel plate. Thus positioned, the forme was then inked with two ink dabbers, the sheet of paper was placed over the standing type, and then the press was brought into play. A sharp pull on the press bar activated a screw, connected at one end to a flat platen poised above the marble slab. The paper, pressed hard against the forme by the action of the platen, took the imprint of the type" (Febure & Martin, p. 64).

Although there were many problems which had to be solved in the process of printing, the press itself was "simple enough in its construction to be made without difficulty by a joiner or simple carpenter, and so in France, at least, there were no specialised printing-press makers until the 18th century" (Febure & Martin, p. 65).

Early fonts were Gothic. Roman and Italic became popular with the enthusiasm for classical texts and learning. These fonts rapidly replaced Gothic in all of Europe except Germany. "Venice played a big part in the eventual domination of roman and italic" (Febure & Martin, p. 82). Early humanist printers, Aldus Manutius and Plantin "had punches cut at this period [which] were acquired by foundries being set up at the time and continuously used until the 18th century" (Febure & Martin, p. 65).

"Aldus [Manutius in Venice] revolutionized the book, leaving us the prototype of the modern printed book, the pocket-sized book, the series of inexpensive classics, italic type and the "old style" of type designs, all of which would survive until today" (Barolini, ix). For books similar to Manutius', browse the Loeb Classical Library at Harvard.

Colophon -- In the 15th and 16th centuries there was often no title page. ".. the reader would find most of his information at the end of the book in the 'colophon', a residue from the manuscript: it was there that he could expect to find the name of the printer, place of publication, perhaps the title and the name of the author" (Febure & Martin, p. 84).

Printer's Mark -- "However, from the 15th century another element appeared, an identifying sign called the printer's mark made with a wood-cut and included with either incipit or colophon" (Febure & Martin, p. 84). Originally meant to help the carters carrying books to customers, it later became a "species of pictorial publicity not only telling the book's origin, but adorning it and affirming its quality... Aldus used an anchor, Kerver a unicorn, Estienne an olive tree... The mark once relegated to the last page commonly appears on the title page, which became general usage from the end of the 15th century" (Febure & Martin, p. 84).

Paper Supply -- From the beginning, ".. the main customer [of paper] was.. the printer. The press was a huge consumer of paper, using 3 reams a day per press" in the late 15th century. (Febure & Martin, p. 40).

Due to the weight of paper, papermakers often located themselves near rivers or an ocean for economical transport of their product. Others had to be satisfied with inferior paper "from their own district, and only began to transport paper from elsewhere in the 18th century" (Febure & Martin, p. 55).

Size of Books

"As printed texts multiplied the book ceased to be a precious object consulted in a library. People wished to take a book with them and to be able to transport it easily, to read or consult at any time; hence the growing success of the 'portable format' which also dates from the first half of the 16th century" (Febure & Martin, p. 88).

"..the book trade in this period was, more than anything, characterised by the division between ponderous, learned tomes intended for use in libraries, and small size literary or polemical works for a larger public. Such a contrast continued to dominate the history of the book in the 17th century" (Febure & Martin, p. 55).

Images of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts as an example, click on SEARCH; type in Aldus (a famous Renaissance printer and humanist); click on VIEW IMAGE; go to bottom left and click on LARGE

Early Books Glossary


"There can be no doubt that books were readily exposed for sale in the 14th century. This is evident in Philobiblion, a book finished in 1345 describing the book-collecting activities of Richard de Bury, bishop of Durham. The book relates how the bishop established good relations with stationers and booksellers in England, France, Germany and Italy by sending advance payments. This practice indicates a widespread market" (Winger, p. 873).

Humanistic and Vernacular Books -- "Petrarch was one of the most notable men early connected with the movement; in the first half of the 14th century he began to search for texts of classical Roman authors. He found neglected copies in the dust heaps of monastery libraries, the product of the monastic scriptorium; but he and others generated an enthusiasm for the syle of writing and pagan contents that was not medieval... "The restored texts, with the humanistic commentaries and original works in Ciceronian rhetoric, became the prized books collected by lay and ecclesiastical princes" (Winger, p. 873).

"by 1450 most of the Latin classics had been recovered; and the humanists had turned their attention to Greece, even before the fall of Constantinople in 1453 caused the exodus of so many books and scholars from the eastern capital" (Winger, p. 873).

"Along with the traditional, there was much that was new. Nearly three-fourths of the authors listed in the first seven volumes of the Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke (as far as it goes, the most comprehensive author list of incunabula) were 15th century Authors. In spite of the preponderance of Latin books a large percentage were in the vernacular, the proportion increasing with distance from Italy. In England, Caxton with his The Dictes and sayenges of the phylosophers(Westminster, 1477) set the pattern for vernacular publishing; and nearly two-thirds of English incunabula were in English" (Winger, p. 874).

Censorship -- "... as the guardian of orthodoxy, the Church was at pains to suppress the spread of heretical works. Numerous texts had been condemned in the Middle Ages, and to read, copy or sell them had been forbidden. From an early date, and especially when printing was put into service on behalf of the Reformers, the Church authorities felt it necessary to prevent the multiplication of pernicious books by the press. As early as 1475 the University of Cologne received a licence from the Pope to censor printers, publishers, authors and even readers of pernicious books" (Febure, p. 244).

"It would be pointless and probably impossible to list the judgments and sentences passed down under such edicts, for they increased to an incredible degree in the course of the 16th century. We need merely note that there was such a rapid increase in the number of banned books that it became necessary to compile an Index Librarum Prohibitorum which had to be incessantly revised" (Febure, p. 245).

The 16th Century Book

"In the 16th century came the culmination of early printing experiments. Typography was standardized in three major styles--black letter, roman and italic... The title page bearing the title, the names of the author, publisher, printer and bookseller, the place of publication and the date was standard by 1520. Pagination, foliation and the printing of signatures, innovations made by Arnold ther Hoernen and Johann Koelhoff of Cologne in the 1470s were uniformly used. The printing press was so perfected that there were no major changes in its construction until the Stanhope iron press in about 1800" (Winger, p. 875).

"It was only the increase in the size of editions [of newspapers] which led to the adoption of a completely new machine, quite different from the hand press. Around 1795 Lord Stanhope in London, helped by a mechanic, Walker, devise a press made almost entirely of metal, still used today by many printers to take proofs" (Febure & Martin, p. 68).

"Disregarding some notable exceptions, the student of the 16th century book finds a trend to small, cheap formats" (Winger, p. 875).

With the increase in books and authorship came disagreements and lawsuits over author rights, printer rights, and markets. Laws and exclusive rights granted by the King were the first experiments in copyright.

Contents of Books -- "The printing press was the instrument of the Reformation, and controversial religious books and pamphlets bulked large among 16th century books. Beginning with Martin Luther's challenge to oral debate in 1517, the course of the Reformation can be traced by the debate in print" (Winger, p. 875).

Censureship -- "The printing press outran the censor. William Tyndale's controversial rendering of the New Testament in English with its even more controversial prologues was published in an edition of 3,000 copies. Though banned in England, this edition was circulated because of the possibility of publishing it in a friendlier foreign country. The smuggling of banned books from one country to another was another characteristic of Reformation printing" (Winger, p. 875).

Reading -- The extent of reading in the 16th century may be inferred from accounts of reading motivations, the growth of schools, studies of book ownership, studies of censorship, and the generalized content of publications.

"Vernacular Bibles were published in large and frequent editions. Luther wrote a pamphlet on education, setting forth a school program. English clergymen were ordered to teach their parishioners to read the Creed, Pater Noster and Ten Commandments, and to show them where they might purchase copies of these. Village petty schools and grammar schools were established in England" (Winger, p. 876).

Renaissance Printing and Thinking

The Printing Press: History

The Renaissance: Invention of the Printing Press and Its Effects

Four Important Periods in the History of the Book


The Chinese invented paper and "nearly five hundred years before Gutenberg the Chinese knew how to print with moveable characters" (Febure & Guignard, p. 71).

"The most ancient written records indicate that the book was in existence as early as the Chang dynasty (1765-1123 BC). On fragments of bone and on the scales of tortoise shells, which were split with red-hot pokers for purposes of divination, nearly 2,500 different characters have been made out, the ancestors of the 80,000 characters of today" (Febure & Guignard, p. 71).

"... the book in its most ancient form, made out of wooden or bamboo tablets inscribed vertically with a pointed stylus dipped in a kind of varnish, the whole bound and held together by leather thongs or silk cords. These books made of wooden slats were used for hundreds of years. Confucius used this type of book to study the I-Ching and we are told that his study was so intensive that the thongs snapped three times" (Febure & Guignard, p. 71).

Such volumes were cumbersome and replaced around 137 AD with rolls of silk which were very light and easy to transport. However, they were very expensive and the Chinese, experimenting with silk waste, and later with rags and hemp, invented the process of papermaking (Febure & Guignard, p. 72).

"It was probably the need to find a particular passage in a text straightaway, without having to unroll yards of paper, combined with a pious wish to emulate the sacred books of India which are written on long, narrow palm leaves bound together with fine twine, as well as the task of combining sheets which had been printed separately, which eventually transformed the appearance of the book" (Febure & Guignard, p. 72).

"Whirling books" were the first result. "... the Arab writer Mohammed Ibn Ishaq remarked in 989 [AD]: 'The Chinese write their religious books and their works of scholarship on sheets of paper which open like a fan'. This type of book, in form half Indian, half Chinese, has continued to be used for Buddhist and Taoist texts... But, unsupported, the paper tore easily, and the next advance was to fold each sheet in half down the centre, the leaves being bound together along the fold yet remaining free to flutter like wings, hence the name 'butterfly book'. This type of book [is] the equivalent of our own" (Febure & Guignard, p. 73).

"The first attempts to print in moveable type (1041-1048) are attributed to a blacksmith and alchemist, Pi Sheng" (Febure & Guignard, p. 75). Creating tens of thousands of characters was so expensive that only the emperors and the government were able to afford such printing. "Only in the 20th century was moveable type again adopted, and then only for newspapers and popular editions... in Korea the public authorities took over responsibility for the diffusion of texts, and printing by means of moveable type found its fullest development there" (Febure & Guignard, p. 75).

"The technique was first used in Korea in the first half of the 13th century and acquired extraordinary importance in the 15th century through the encouragement of the local King Sejong" (Febure & Guignard, p. 76).


"Generally undistnguished in appearance, the 1,250,000 issues and editions published in the 17th century included a high number of unsurpassed brilliance in content. The list of authors whose works were being published for the first time includes Shakespeare, Cervantes, Bacon, Descartes, Galileo, Molière, Milton, Newton, and others scarcely less important" (Winger, p. 876).

Content expanded, including histories, biographies, travel books, and scientific periodicals which reported experiments and inventions (Winger, p. 876).

Censorship -- ".. a changed attitude toward censorship... John Milton's Areopagitica, published in 1644, was a pamphlet which developed a principle of freedom. Milton argued that if freedom were allowed for the publication of a variety of opinions, truth would triumph over falsehood in a free encounter [an idea reflected in current Library Science philosophy]... a spirit favouring a variation of opinion in print was growing...

"Agitation for a law to protect printing rights resulted in the passage of the copyright law of 1709, which vested the rights for publication in the author. The shift from printer's privilege to copyright was another outgrowth of expanded publication and the emphasis on individuals. By the end of the 17th century some authors had acquired large personal followings. Consequently publishers were eager to print their books and could afford to pay them for the privilege" (Winger, p. 877).

The Book In America -- American colonists wasted few years in establishing the printing press. The Spanish began printing in Mexico in the 1530s. Puritans settled at Massachusetts Bay in 1630 and set up a printing press at Cambridge in 1638. The earliest surviving imprint of the Cambridge press, the Bay Psalm Book, was printed by Stephen Daye in 1640. Four English colonies in America had presses before 1700.

"The three largest classes of colonial printing were theology (37%), law (19.5%) and literature (19.5%). Regional variations made theology most important in New England (46%)... The colonial book, made in America, played a definite role in fabricating a colonial mentality from various European backgrounds" (Winger, p. 877).

The Growth of Reading -- "A great expansion in the reading public during the 17th and 18th centuries came from the increasing literacy of women. Girls had attended the vernacular schools during the 16th century, and by the 17th century a woman such as Aphra Behn could attain fame as a writer. Much of the prose fiction which became popular in the 18th century was addressed to women and circulating libraries catered to their tastes. Sermons castigating women for wasting their time reading light novels were common.

"In the 18th century there was great faith in the ability of the common man to educate himself by reading. Concrete expressions of that faith were the encyclopedias, expensive publishing gambles that were successful. Diderot and the French Encyclopedists were most famous, but the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the German Brockhaus and other national encyclopedias date from the late 18th century. The many subscription libraries which grew up in England and America were another demonstration of the force of the idea of self-education through the use of books" (Winger, p. 877).

The Art Of the Book -- "The techniques of illustration developed rapidly. Etching, dry-point, mezzotint and aquatint were intaglio processes that were widely used. Thomas Bewick's wood engravings changed the technique of the wood-cut and became popular in cheaper books. Printed by the relief process, wood engravings became the medium of the 19th century illustrated weeklies. Aloys Senefelder's discovery of the lithographic process of printing illustrations (about 1798) was the most significant because lithography is the basis of offset printing" [used today] (Winger, p. 877).


"Spurred on by industrialization, democracy and urbanization, book production mutlplied in the 19th century. The number of issues and editions quadrupled, reaching 8,000,000 as compared to 2,000,000 for the 18th century. The sizes of editions also increased. By 1900, best-selling novels sold more than 600,000 copies. The penny newspapers and the popular magazines with aggregate circulations running into the millions created the phenomenon of mass communication" (Winger, p. 877).

"Literacy increased... The growth of democracy with its emphasis on the widespread public discussion of political issues and on popular education, fostered free schools. Public libraries, a product of the cities, made books available to all... The Boston Society for the Diffusion of Knowledge began publishing cheap paperbound book in 1831... It was the era of the dime novel, but many cheap books in the US were pirated from foreign publishers; and the program did not survive the copyright act of 1891" (Winger, p. 877).


"The 20th century book has been affected by the growth of motion pictures, radio and television. These mediums can reach large audiences who have only to look and listen to receive messages presented with all the warmth of the human voice... [But] more books are being published... than before" (Winger, p. 878).

Magazines and newspapers expanded until near the end of the 20th century, when adverse postal rate changes hurt many magazines, and readership of newspapers dropped precipitously as more and more people got their news and entertaiment from the World Wide Web, popularized in the mid-1980s.

"The book has survived in [the] face of this competition because of its peculiar capacities as an instrument of communication. First it is a storehouse of knowledge. While the voice and image of the new media are fleeting, the printed word endures and the reader can look at it again at his own convenience... Second, the book is an individual instrument of communication. Silent reading is a solitary act; the reader may go as fast or as slowly as he pleases... Third, the book is cheaper to produce than radio, television and motion picture programs, and can afford to cater to smaller audiences... A good reader can cover more in an hour than a listener could hear in four hours " (Winger, p. 878).

The book also is portable, permanent, relatively cheap (compared to a computer and Web access), and is easy to read. These characteristics have made it continually popular, even with the growing popularity of the Web and television.

Photographic Processes -- Economical photographic processes used in printing have made it possible for publishers to exploit the individuality of the book by printing small editions for limited audiences. One important device is the photo-offset press built in 1904. [It] can be used to print large editions, but its economy also permits the publication of very small editions... The process is used to reissue out-of-print books and to print original typescripts cheaply... One advantage of the photographic technique for scholarly materials is the ease with which complex drawings, diagrams, and other illustrative materials and exotic alphabets may be produced" (Winger, p. 878).

The photographic processes also made possible microtexts--texts so small they need to be read with a magnifying glass or a machine. Some microtexts, such as the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) have been created on paper. More popular in libraries, however, have been microforms, such as microfilm and microfiche, which can store immense amounts of information (used extensively for historical information and past newspapers) in a small space, hence solving at least partially libraries' space problems.

Marketing Developments -- "... book clubs were a marketing innovation to distribute huge editions by mail... an American invention. The earliest clubs were the Book-of-the-Month club (1926) and the Literary Guild (1927)... By advertising judicious selections heavily, offering book premiums, and reducing prices in accord with their high sales, the large general clubs could sell editions of several hundred thousand copies" (Winger, p. 878).

"The US paper-bound ["pocket books"] publishers owed their success to the inexpensive format and to the exploitation of new sales outlets... newsstands, in drugstores and in grocery stores as well as in bookstores, making use of more than 100,000 outlets in the United States and Canada [1953 figures]" (Winger, p. 878).

Comic books became enormously popular, for both adults and children. "They were so popular that by 1951 comic book publishers in the United States were selling at least 35,000,000 copies a month" (Winger, p. 878). By the end of the 20th century, the popularity of comic books had waned. Collectors of "classic issues" constituted the largest market.

Children's Books -- Becoming a serious source of income for publishers in the late 19th century, by the 20th century quality children's authors and children's books were recognized as both a source of quality reading and useful in the education of children.

Chilren's libraries within public libraries became common, as did the position of "children's librarian" (Winger, p. 878).

Reading in the 20th Century -- "In most modern industrial countries well over 90% of the population can read. Functional literacy alone, however, does not make habitual book readers. The American Institute of Public Opinion reported surveys of adult book reading in highly literate countries (1950-57). In Great Britain over half those interviewed were reading a book when they were questioned. In Scandinavia, western Germany, Canada, and Australia, book readers ranged from 30% to 45%. In the US less than 20% were book readers" (Winger, p. 879).


"The Web and books are the two most popular forms of reading today. Newspapers are dramatically shrinking and their future may be in small editions for small interest groups. Magazines, especially special interest magazines, are also having troubles with the advent of even further negative postal regulations, the result of lobbying by huge publishing corporations.

Bookstores are still thriving, although most reading is popular. Textbooks are on the way to extinction as they price themselves out of the market. What will replace them is open to question.

The Web popularity continues to grow eclipsing even television in some households, although economic limitations may cap its usage. Most people who can afford a computer and Web access already have it. There are possible innovations, however, which may overcome this economic boundary.

Now, the Web also offers free courses, like at EdX. For instance, Harvard is offering a famous course on the Greek hero, presented by Gregory Nagy, a renowned classicist and linguist, beginning on Sep. 3 and lasting for 17 weeks. I plan to audit the course.

Reference Materials

Modern Printing Glossary
The Development of Print Technology
Glossary of Book Terms

Works Cited

Barolini, Helen. Aldus and His Dream Book. NY, Italica Press, 1992.

Febure, Lucien, & Henri-Jean Martin. The Coming of the Book: The Impact of Printing 1450-1800. Translated by David Gerard. Thetford, Norfolk, Verso Press, 1976.

Febure, Lucien, & M.R. Guignard. The Coming of the Book: The Impact of Printing 1450-1800. The section on Chinese printing and the book was written for Febure by Mme M.R. Guignard, Keeper in the department of Manuscripts of the Bibliotheque Nationale. Diderot and D'Alembert. Encyclopedie Francaise, 1751-1772. Good, Dale (ed.). Compton's Encyclopedia. 26 volumes. Chicago: Compton's Learning Co., 1992.

Grafton, Anthony and Megan Williams. Christianity and the Transformation of the Book: Origen, Eusebius, and the Library of Caesarea. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard Univ. Press, 2006.

Harris, Michael H. History of Libraries in the Western World. London, Scarecrow Press, 1984.

Janot, J.M. Les Moulins a Papier de las Region Vosgienne. Paris, 1952, 2 vols.

Manguel, Roberto. Chapter 2 of A History of Reading (New York; Viking, 1996). Accessed at http://www.stanford.edu/class/history34q/readings/Manguel/Silent_Readers.html on June 17, 2009.

Reimer, Stephen R. "Manuscript Studies: IV.vii Paleography: Punctuation." found at http://www.ualberta.ca/~sreimer/ms-course/course/punc.htm. Accessed on June 17, 2009.

Robbins, Sonia Jaffe. "Punctuation." In New York University NYU Website at http://www.meridianmagazine.com/ancients/040707pass.html. Viewed June 2004.

Winger, Howard W. "Books." Encyclopaedia Britannica. Walter Yust, ed. Chicago: William Benton, 1959. Vol. 3, pp. 869-879.


Once you have completed all the readings for this week, please return to Canvas, click on the Quizzes link, and take the quiz. If you are not satisfied with your score, take the quiz over again. This can be done multiple times.

Once you have taken the quiz and achieved a grade with which you are satisfied, return to Canvas and address the Discussions topic for the week. Then click on the next week of readings.

Prof. Colby Glass, MLIS