Bookmaking and Printing Press

free essayThe invention of some technologies made an extremely large-scale, powerful and profound impact on the development of humanity. In 1440, the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in Germany of circa was one of such important milestones in the course of global history. The current essay will focus on the comparison and contrast of book making technologies before the invention of the printing press (namely, hand-copying of manuscripts in medieval Europe) and the situation in this sphere after the machine of Gutenberg became popular all over Europe.

Before the invention of printing press the only way to make another copy of a book or a scroll was to copy it by hand. It was usually done in monastery centers where educated monks worked in special rooms to create the copies of the given books. After the press was created, the process became more technological and fast and it led to a number of different consequences. Therefore, one of the major differences between these technologies was the speed of the process. When books were replicated by hand, it could take months or even years for a copyist to do his job. It was necessary not only to rewrite the text that the book contained, but also to re-create the illustrations and decorative initial letters as well as complex ornamental or floral frames. Moreover, medieval books were considered to be very valuable and it was often explained not only by the difficulty of the book making process, but also by the existence of a large number of precious inclusions, like the gems added to the book covers or golden threads glued to the parchment (Eisenstein 29). It is obvious that the production of such books was very slow. It was completely changed after the popularization of the printing press. The price of the books significantly dropped and, in addition, it became quite popular to print cheap leaflets that were often used for passing information to the broad masses of people.

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The copies of books made by monks were often different from the originals. It was done due to a number of different reasons. Firstly, it was easier to censor some parts or ideas from the book if the books were copied by hand. It was a relatively common situation, especially due to the fact that the major part of bookmaking was done at monasteries where the church tried to eliminate all anticlerical thoughts from the works of ancient authors. Secondly, the idea of copyright and the “sanctity” of the original did not exist. Monks often added their own comments to the texts or even rearranged them (Eisenstein 59). However, “the ultimate goal of printing is to make an exact duplicate of the original document” (Crompton 12). The authors could be more or less sure that the audience would receive their text in the same form it was written and there would be no differences between the book read in Italy and in the north of Germany. Special forms were filled with metal letters and after even application of ink these metal plates were pushed to the paper sheets. The results of this process were identical in each case.

The next difference is the impact made by hand and press bookmaking. Gutenberg was not the first person in the world who decided to apply pressing technologies to bookmaking. Certain prototypes of the printing press existed in China and Japan, but they were not as effective as Gutenberg’s invention. Copying books by hands and all predecessors of this technology could not allow fast and powerful dissemination of knowledge. “As an agent of change, printing altered methods of data collection, storage and retrieval systems and communication networks used by learned communities throughout Europe” (Eisenstein 16). Handmade books were so rare and so expensive that only few representatives of the elite could buy them, so there could be no fast and wide-spread popularization of the ideas contained in the books.

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However, despite all the above-mentioned differences, before and after the printing press, the bookmaking completely depended on the men’s abilities. The process was not automated and as there was no electricity at that period, it was necessary to add human force to make a book. It was true both for handmade books and for the printing press production. Despite the convenience of the printing press it still required hard work from the people who operated it. Moreover, the process was not simple and at the time of copying books by hand, only skilled workers could make the press function properly. Therefore, even with the introduction of the printing press, bookmaking remained the job that should be learnt and prepared.

To conclude, the invention of the printing press and its popularity in Europe caused many significant changes in the process of knowledge dissemination. The process of bookmaking with the help of the printing press was faster than the hand copying of a book. In addition, it allowed making the exact copies of the originals. Therefore, the new technology with cheaper and faster production had much more powerful impact on the society. However, both processes were rather difficult and only skilled specialists could make books both before and after the invention of the printing press.