Let's take a quiz:
1. What two things do each of these words represent:
[Answer: 1. A man, more specifically a man who is a punch cutter and type designer; and 2. a typographic font.]
2. Define these terms:
[Answers: a: shaded picture; b: monochrome illustration representing relief; c: printing from an incised plate from which ink is drawn; d: intaglio printing process in a rotary press; e: intaglio etching in which a metal plate is roughened evenly and then smoothed to bring out an image; f: a calligraphic form of blackletter; g: printing from a flat surface, as in lithogrpahy; h: large decorative initial letter; ]
3. With what better known historical figure were the following printers or publishers associated?
- Wynkyn de Worde
- Richard Field
- Nicholas Jenson
- Jean Jannon
- George Cruikshank
- Giambattista Bodoni
- Henry Jarvis Raymond
- Johann Froben
[Answers: a: Caxton; b: Shakespeare; c: Eusebius; d: Richelieu; e: Dickens; f: Carlos III; g: Mark Twain h: Erasmus]
4. Match these inventors with their inventions.
[Answers: 1-d; 2-b; 3-f; 4-a; 5-e; 6-c]
4. Explain the difference between the monotype and linotype machines.
[Answer: Monotype casts individual letters and assembles them in lines, Linotype casts type line by line in slugs.]
5. Essay question: Discourse on the techniques and importance of the history of the Printed Word, emphasizing Western civilization.
If you did not score 100% on the objective portion of the quiz, AND if your answer to number 5 did not extend to 300 pages, lavishly illustrated, touching on the tools, techniques, inspiration, uses, principal figures, historical trends, and future of printing as an artistic and popular means of communication and expression, then click over to Amazon and purchase A Short History of the Printed Word by Warren Chappell and Robert Bringhurst.
The book was originally written by Chappell (1904-1991) in 1970 and published by Alfred Knopf, to whom it is dedicated. It was revised and republished by Bringhurst, well known (in typographic circles) author of The Elements of Typographic Style, in 1999. Bringhurst memorializes Chappell in his Preface by saying:
"Chappell spent his whole life designing and illustrating books, and making texts and blocks and metal type and other components, out of which to make the books he made. There was, in 1970, no process of type manufacture, no medium of illustration, and no technique of printing with which he was not personally and viscerally familiar."
The reason for the revision and republication of a classic work was twofold, first "...procedures and techniques that had been current for half a millennium when he [Cappell] was writing...have all but disappeared in the last three decades" and "Chappell's original plan...was to make this book a collaboration. It is now, in its second life, exactly that" (x). With that brief introduction we are launched, no, immersed, in the world of typography, presses, printing surfaces, inks and papers, fonts and punches. The most honored here are the punch cutters, not the authors, but the authors are not forgotton, and are memorialized throughout in the book's numerous illustrations. This is a show me, tell me, explain to me, move me to thought book. Definitely not for dummies, but neither is it a tedious technical treatise.
The book begins by touching on the Chinese and Korean origins of printing, but this is very much a book about printing in the Western tradition. Think France, England, the low countries, Germany, Italy and, eventually, America, and you will have compassed the reach of this short history. We early learn the techniques of printing: letterpress, intaglio, planographic; and then begin our march from Gutenberg to Adobe Systems. Little time is spent contemplating why, exactly, technologies proliferated when they did, even though they had been known (often) long before they spread. It is enough to say, for example, that "Europe was not, evidently, ready for printed books before Gutenberg appeared" (p. 14). It is a book more about the how and when of typography and printing, not so much about the why, or why not.
We learn, therefore, about papermaking, punch cutting, calligraphy, nibs and wood block cutting. We learn much about the aesthetics of the alphabet as expressed in type over the course of western history. We learn of such formal intricacies as "transitive italic serifs" and "half unicals," "Carolingian miniscules" and the development of fifteenth century textura (blackletter) which sounds pretty obscure, but is delivered gracefully and with full illustrations. The narrative never veers too far to the technical, and is always supplemented by examples from well known works to help us relate to the technical discussion.
Consider this from the discussion of fifteenth century printing:
"Another major step [in the history of human civilization] was the division of the stream of writing into standardized units of transmission. That is a fancy way of saying chopping the text up into pages. Simple as it sounds, this step was slow in coming. Cutting up the scroll into uniform but arbitrary portions, and sewing them down the side to make a codex—a manuscript book—must at first have seemed a leap into arid technological abstraction" (p.39).
Did it? We who stand at the other end of that abstraction, who are in the process of abandoning pages for continuously scrolling computer screens and the arbitrary units of eInk on the screen of a Kindle or other eReader would like to know. Unfortunately, the authors are more intent in keeping the discussion tied to the concrete historical technologies—though they can hardly be blamed for this—and only tantalize us with speculations like the one above. It's too bad, because I would be keen to know what experienced typographers think of the end of the print era. We get some of that in Bringhurst's discussion of digital fonts in the books closing chapter, but surprisingly little. This is very much a book rooted in paper-ink-press, and mostly handpress, technology.
The general story of the early chapters is the development of blackletter (think Gutenberg's Bible and the other masterpieces of European incunabula) and the ultimate ascendancy of roman type. The heroes of the book are its punch cutters, who in nearly every case are font designers, cutters, casters, printers and publishers rolled into one—though publishers early on were often divorced from the more technical (and laborious) aspects of printing. Men like Johann van Speyer, printer of St. Augustine's De Civitate Dei, the first book in Europe printed with page numbers; Nicolas Jenson, first to produce a Greek type; Lambert Palmart, first printer in Spain; William Caxton, printer of the first book in English, his own translation of Raoul Le Févre's Le Recueil des histoires de Troyes; Erhard Ratdolt, first to print a decorative title page to his edition of Euclid's Elements, printed in Venice; the great Albrecht Dürer, perfecter of amazingly intricate woodcutting techniques; Aldus Manutius, founder of the Aldine press and practical patron of Renaissance humanism. These men, mostly of the Mainz diaspora, in the latter half of the fifteenth century are the book's early subjects and soul.
From its beginnings in Mainz printing spread to more than 1,100 print shops in 200 cities by 1500, but it retained a surprising connection to handwriting. In fact, this is one of the book's interesting observations. Bringhurst explains it by paraphrasing Marshal McLuhan, "...the primary content of any new medium is usually a form made familiar by the medium that immediately precedes" (p. 280). It is unfortunate he does not go on to extend the idea to the digital age, but a little reflection will confirm the notion. This review is densely textual. It uses hyperlinks and a few graphical illustrations, imitating a book's index and printed illustrations, but it could as easily, using the available technology, be audible, or a video with audio narrative, or a series of illustrations in an animated flash presentation, but the computer and eReader age is still young enough to be fully imitative of its predecessor age of print and paper. We see this change gradually emerging in the digital age, but we hearken back to our bookish roots, like children snuggling beneath our comforting blankets. Later in the book Chappell especially, but Bringhurst too, have some fairly negative things to say about "flatland" as Bringhurst calls digital "print," but I believe their remarks proceed more from snobbery and nostalgic connections to the old technologies than from clear-eyed reason.
In the book's chapter on the seventeenth century it departs from the strictly technological and illustrative and engages in a discussion of censorship in England which is very interesting (and atypical of the rest of the book). Milton's Areopagitica is quoted at length:
"...We should be wary, therefore, what persecution we raise against the living labours of public men, how we spill that seasoned life of man preserved and stored up in books; since we see a kind of homicide may be thuys committed, sometimes a martyrdom..." (p. 124).
Why the authors chose to use England as their example is hard to say, since the Catholic Index or Germanic reformation could have served as better examples, but perhaps the point is that the age of censorship was also the age of the King James Bible and the First Folio, though as examples of the printer's art these books are hardly praiseworthy. Perhaps the point to be taken, also, is that the seventeenth century was the beginning of the age of the newspaper, which flourished in spite of, and often because of, official censorship. The first European newspaper was Avisa Relation order Zeitung published at Augsburg and Strasbourg in 1609, the first English newspaper Nathaniel Butter's Corante, in 1621 (Butter is a familiar figure to Shakespeare students). Whether royalist or protectorate overlords were the censors, "To be a printer was a dangerous calling, and it continued to be so even after the relaxed conditions that followed the Declaration of Rights and the subsequent lapsing of the licensing laws" (p. 156).
The eighteenth century is called the age of "typographic rationalism," and its heroes are William Caslon and John Baskerville, in England, the Fournier and Didot families in France, Giambattista Bodoni in Italy, the Enschedé brothers in Amsterdam, and Joaquím Ibarra, Gabriel de Sancha, and Francisco Manuel de Mena in Madrid. It was the age of Steele, Addison and Defoe, and their famous journals; the age, also, of a wide scale spread of newspapers across England and America.
The principal technological developments of the industrial revolution and early nineteenth century began to drive printing. The invention of the all iron press, designed by Earl Stanhope in 1800, wood engraving techniques invented by Thomas Berwick, the invention of lithography by Aloys Senefelder (1796)—a failed playwright who became self published and had to go so far as inventing his own methods of publication—the invention of the steam powered cylindrical press by Friedrich König; the Foudrinier paper making machine; and the invention of stereotype and electrotype all contributed to a breach between what developed into the worlds of small-scale handpress "fine" printing, and large-scale, popular, mass-produced commercial printing as exemplified in the London Times. In 1814 the Times used a modified double-cylinder steam powered press as invented by König to print 1,100 sheets per hour. By 1868 the Times was printing 20,000 sheets per hour. As more developed countries adopted new technologies for printing, their old equipment migrated to less developed countries. "Printing arrived...in Uruguy in 1807, Burma in 1816, Costa Rica in 1827, New Zealand in 1830, and in Thailand around 1836" (p. 212).
The great inventions of the latter half of the nineteenth century were the Linotype and Monotype machines, which automated the process of cutting, casting, and setting type. The linotype casts type in lines as single slugs, which are then automatically assembled. "With the Linotype, type became disposable, and every job the printer set was made of fresh, new type, unused, unworn" (p. 215). From this point, the book becomes less interested in technology and more interested in its products, the small press magazines; American periodicals, like Harper's Monthly, the Atlantic, Century Illustrated, and Scribner's Magazine. It also discusses the English arts and crafts movement, exemplified in the work of William Morris and his associates, none too fondly.
The remainder of the sections for which Chappell is primarily responsible deal with printing in America in the early and then post-war twentieth centuries. You would expect this to be the richest in detail, being the period in which Chappell was actively employed in the field, but it is rather lightly covered. His primary interest is a nostalgic engagement with the earlier history of printing. The work of Edward Johnston and his associates are emphasized, as are the type designers of the 1920s, notably Eric Gill.
The emphasis in the latter part of the book is on fine printing, rather than printing in general. "Four things are required in a fine book: excellence of writing, editing, design, and physical production" (p. 246). This will come as a surprise to many authors, but our authors consider the book in the totality of its historical import, not just the meaning of the words. This becomes a bit problematic as the book moves to its conclusion. One gets the sense that one is overhearing the veteran's trope, rather than a clear headed analysis. Consider this:
"Trade presses are, by definition, at the mercy of the market, and it is only in fortunate conditions that the market knows or cares what quality is" (p. 247);
"In the age of mass production, books in which design and production are held to the highest standard have come almost entirely from the private press" (247-248).
The loss of "three dimensionality" (minimal as it is) and a "sculptural quality" in printing are lamented and offset printing and photographic processes in general are criticized, as are the paper quality used by mass printers, adhesive bindings, and generally everything about mass produced printing.
"When the only form in which a book exists is a form that cannot last, then the essence of the form, the thing that makes a book a book, has been betrayed" (p. 270).
This is a serious criticism of post-war printing technology, which should be taken even more seriously by those of us in the digital age, where paper, ink, physical print and binding are about to disappear. Will we still have books when books abandon their physicality? The early indication is, yes. Today I purchased the entire works of Charles Dickens for my Amazon Kindle for just pennies, and it downloaded within a minute, wirelessly. Bleak House is still Bleak House, but now I can keyword search the entire text, annotate and bookmark to my hearts content—and the Kindle automatically backs up my annotations on the Amazon web site—when my eyes weary may Kindle will read to me (though the voice is inhuman enough to make this a little disconcerting), and I can quickly search the web for related documents, all on the same device. The point is, I can still participate in reading Bleak House on my Kindle as I have read it in many different physical editions before, with the added advantages of a digital tool. It is still a book. A book, contra-Chappell and Bringhurst, is primarily an artistic vision, not a physical thing.
I think not. Before there were books, there were hand-written symbols on parchment, or stylus on wax, or chisel on stone, or whatever. Whether the thing be recorded in wax, on animal skin, on cut paper, or on magnetic or optical media, underlying it all is a system of symbols, a system of literacy, the vision of an author, and social conventions that make the interchange of this complex information system possible. The media is only incidental to the process. True each media will have its own advantages and disadvantages, claim our allegiances and hatreds, but they exist only because of the thing communicated through them. This bit of special pleading at the end of this excellent book spoils it a bit with the pale cast of fogeyism, but there is a serious warning to be taken from Chappell and Bringhurst as we enter the post-print-and-paper age: our systems must insure the permanence of our works over time. This is the 64,000 dollar question of the digital age that no one has yet answered. How do we insure that the works we produce today can be read, or even known to have existed, in future millennia? In an age where all available information will double every 72 hours, how do we decide what to archive and how and where? The answer is certainly in not abandoning the advantages of digital media, or in clinging nostalgically to physical books, but in tempering our expansive creativity with the archivist's wisdom, wherever that may be found. In this respect, the warnings at the end of A Short History of the Printed Word, are apt.
"It is possible that printed books as repositories of human experience and creativity may in time be overshadowed or even replaced by digital replicas. Once made, such replicas are very quickly copied and easily stored in a small space—but they cannot be read without a prosthesis. They are invisible and useless without the intervention of an exceedingly complex, electrically powered machine. Such a scheme may look good to accountants and to marketers. But for authors and for readers, there can be no substitute for a well-designed, well-printed, well-bound book that one can see and feel as well as read. A tangible, stable, well-made page is just as desirable, and just as useful, now as it was in the fifteenth century" (p. 272).