Book Arts History: August 24, 1456

Day 321/365

Today is an important day for us modern bookbinders – it marks the day, in 1456, the first Gutenberg Bible was finished!

Johannes Gutenberg was the first person in Europe to make a book printed using moveable metal type.  Previously, the contents of books were hand-written and incredibly labour-intensive.  Think of Illustrated Manuscripts and really large, elaborate leather bound volumes.

However, there is a twist.  And at this point I must admit that I’m no expert in bookbinding history.  So I’ll start by admitting that I learned this next part by eavesdropping on a nearby conversation at a book arts fair some time ago, then went home and did some more research.  (Total introvert, I know, I know)

So, the big deal with the Gutenberg Bible is that it was printed with moveable metal type, similar to letterpress printing today, which was a new technology.  It led to so many changes: the way books were made, how information was conveyed and who could afford to own copies of said books.  In fact, in a round about sort of way, even some of my own book art pieces can be attributed to the invention of moveable metal type and the printing presses needed to use the type.  For example, my Artist’s book ‘O2’, as pictured below.DSC_0711_fotor

However, (this is the twist) in the early 1900’s it was discovered that 78 years prior to Gutenberg, another book was made using moveable metal type; the Jikji, in Korea.  The Jikji is a collection of Buddhist teachings.  Originally several volumes were created, but only the last was found and is currently in a museum in France.

I think it’s so interesting that bookbinding, seen as dull and uninteresting to many, had a hand in paving the way to the delivery of information as we know it today.  Of course, I’m just barely touching the surface of this topic.  There are many websites dedicated to unravelling the details of the two books and the true history of the invention of moveable metal type.  If you do a quick google search on each, you should get a good roster of reading for yourself.




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