Collection Studio 4.72
[ release date: March 31, 2016 ]
History of books
The oral account (word of mouth, tradition, hearsay) is the oldest carrier of messages and stories. When writing systems were invented in ancient civilizations, nearly everything that could be written upon—stone, clay, tree bark, metal sheets—was used for writing. Alphabetic writing emerged in Egypt around 1800 BC and at first the words were not separated from each other (scripta continua) and there was no punctuation. The text could be written from right to left, from left to right or even so that alternate lines must be read in opposite directions (boustrophedon). In Ancient Egypt, papyrus (a form of paper made by weaving the stems of the papyrus plant, then pounding the woven sheet with a hammer like tool) was used for writing maybe as early as from First Dynasty, but first evidence is from the account books of King Neferirkare Kakai of the Fifth Dynasty (about 2400 BC). Papyrus sheets were glued together to form a scroll. Scrolls, whether made from papyrus, vellum or paper in East Asia, were the dominant form of book in the Hellenistic, Roman, Chinese and Hebrew cultures until the codex began to challenge the scroll in the Imperial Roman period. The codex took over the Roman world by Late antiquity, but lasted much longer in Asia.
In Ancient Egypt, papyrus (a form of paper made by weaving the stems of the papyrus plant, then pounding the woven sheet with a hammer like tool) was used for writing maybe as early as from First Dynasty, but first evidence is from the account books of King Neferirkare Kakai of the Fifth Dynasty (about 2400 BC). Papyrus sheets were glued together to form a scroll. Scrolls, whether made from papyrus, vellum or paper in East Asia, were the dominant form of book in the Hellenistic, Roman, Chinese and Hebrew cultures until the codex began to challenge the scroll in the Imperial Roman period. The codex took over the Roman world by Late antiquity, but lasted much longer in Asia.
We also have evidence that tree bark (Latin liber, from there also library) and other materials were also used. According to Herodotus (History 5:58) the Phoenicians brought writing and also papyrus to Greece around tenth or ninth century BC and so the Greek word for papyrus as writing material (biblion) and book (biblos) come from the Phoenician port town Byblos through which most of the papyrus was exported to Greece.
In schools, in accounting and for taking notes wax tablets were the normal writing material. Wax tablets had the advantage of being reusable: the wax could be melted and a new text carved into the wax. The custom of binding several wax tablets together (Roman pugillares) is a possible precursor for modern books (i.e. codex). Also the etymology of the word codex (block of wood) suggest that it may have developed from wooden wax tablets.
As witnessed by the findings in Pompeii papyrus scrolls were still dominant in the first century AD. At the end of the century we have the first written mention of the codex as a form of book from Martial in his Apophoreta CLXXXIV, where he praises its compactness. In the pagan Hellenistic world however, the codex never gained much popularity and only within the Christian community was it popularized and gained widespread use. This gradual change happened during the third and fourth centuries and the reasons for adopting the codex form of the book are several: the codex format is more economical as both sides of the writing material can be used, it is easy to conceal, portable and searchable. It is also possible that the Christian authors distinguished their writings on purpose from the pagan texts which were written normally in the form of scrolls.
In the 7th century Isidore of Seville explains the relation between codex, book and scroll in his Etymologiae (VI.13) as this:
A codex is composed of many books; a book is of one scroll. It is called codex by way of metaphor from the trunks (codex) of trees or vines, as if it were a wooden stock, because it contains in itself a multitude of books, as it were of branches.
The fall of the Roman Empire in the fifth century A.D. saw the decline of the culture of ancient Rome. Due to lack of contacts with Egypt the papyrus became difficult to obtain and parchment (what had been used for writing already for centuries) started to be the main writing material.
In Western Roman Empire mainly monasteries carried on the Latin writing tradition, because first Cassiodorus in the monastery of Vivarium (established around 540) stressed the importance of copying texts, and later also St. Benedict of Nursia, in his Regula Monachorum (completed around the middle of the 6th century) promoted reading. The Rule of St. Benedict (Ch. XLVIII), which set aside certain times for reading, greatly influenced the monastic culture of the Middle Ages, and is one of the reasons why the clergy were the predominant readers of books. At first the tradition and style of the Roman Empire still dominated and only slowly the peculiar medieval book culture emerged.
Before the invention and adoption of the printing press, almost all books were copied by hand, which made books expensive and comparatively rare. Smaller monasteries had usually only some dozen books, medium sized a couple hundred. By the ninth century larger collections held around 500 volumes and even at the end of the Middle Ages the papal library in Avignon and Paris library of Sorbonne held only around 2,000 volumes.
The scriptorium of the monastery was usually located over the chapter house and artificial light was forbidden in fear that it may damage the manuscripts. The bookmaking process was long and laborious. At first the parchment had to be prepared, then the unbound pages were planned and ruled with a blunt tool or lead, after that the text was written by the scribe who usually left blank areas for illustration and rubrication. Only after that the book was bound by the bookbinder.
There were four types of scribes:
1. Copyists, who dealt with basic production and correspondence
Already in antiquity there were different types of ink known, usually prepared from soot and gum or later also from gall nuts and iron vitriol. This gave writing the typical brownish black color, but black or brown were not the only colours used. There are texts written in red or even gold, and of course different colours were used for illumination. Sometimes the whole parchment was coloured purple and the text was written on it with gold or silver (eg Codex Argenteus). Irish monks introduced spacing between words in the seventh century. This facilitated reading, as these monks tended to be less familiar with Latin. However the use of spaces between words did not become commonplace before 12th century. It has been argued, that the use of spacing between words shows the transition from semi-vocalized reading into silent reading.
The first books used parchment or vellum (calf skin) for the pages. The book covers were made of wood and covered with leather. As dried parchment tends to assume the form before processing, the books were fitted with clasps or straps. During later Middle Ages, when public libraries appeared, books were often chained to a bookshelf or a desk to prevent theft. The so called libri catenati were used up to 18th century.
At first books were copied mostly in monasteries, one at a time. With the rise of universities in the 13th century, the demand for books increased and a new system for copying books appeared. The books were divided into unbound leaves (pecia), which were lent out to different copyists, so the book production speed was considerably increased. The system was maintained by stationers guilds, which were secular, and produced both religious and non-religious material.
Wood block printing and incunables
In woodblock printing, a relief image of an entire page was carved out of blocks of wood. It could then be inked and used to reproduce many copies of that page. This method was used widely throughout East Asia, originating in China in the Han dynasty (before 220AD)as a method of printing on textiles and later paper. The oldest dated (868 AD) book printed with this method is The Diamond Sutra.
This method (called also Woodcut when used in art) arrived to Europe in the early 14th century. Books, (known as block-books ) as well as playing-cards and religious pictures, began to be produced by this method. Creating an entire book, however, was a painstaking process, requiring a hand-carved block for each page. Also, the wood blocks tended to crack if stored for long.
The Chinese inventor Pi Sheng made movable type of earthenware circa 1045, but we have no surviving examples of his printing. Metal movable type was invented in Korea during the Goryeo Dynasty (around 1230), but was not widely used, one reason being the enormous Chinese character set. Around 1450, in what is commonly regarded as an independent invention, Johannes Gutenberg introduced movable type in Europe, along with innovations in casting the type based on a matrix and hand mould. This invention gradually made books comparatively affordable (although still quite expensive for most people) and more widely available.
Early printed books, single sheets and images which were created before the year 1501 in Europe are known as incunabula, sometimes anglicized to incunables.
Though papermaking in Europe had begun around the 11th century, up until the beginning of 16th century vellum and paper were produced congruent to one another, vellum being the more expensive and durable option. Printers or publishers would often issue the same publication on both materials, to cater to more than one market. As was the case with many medieval inventions, paper was first made in China, as early as 200 B.C., and reached Europe through Muslim territories. At first made of rags, the industrial revolution changed paper-making practices, allowing for paper to be made out of wood pulp.
With the rise of printing in the fifteenth century, books were published in limited numbers and were quite valuable. The need to protect these precious commodities was evident. One of the earliest references to the use of bookmarks was in 1584 when the Queen's Printer, Christopher Barker, presented Queen Elizabeth I with a fringed silk bookmark. Common bookmarks in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were narrow silk ribbons bound into the book at the top of the spine and extended below the lower edge of the page. The first detachable bookmarks began appearing in the 1850's and were made from silk, embroidered fabrics or leather. Not until the 1880's, did paper and other materials become more common.
Steam-powered printing presses became popular in the early 1800s. These machines could print 1,100 sheets per hour, but workers could only set 2,000 letters per hour.
Monotype and linotype presses were introduced in the late 19th century. They could set more than 6,000 letters per hour and an entire line of type at once.
The centuries after the 15th century were thus spent on improving both the printing press and the conditions for freedom of the press through the gradual relaxation of restrictive censorship laws. See also intellectual property, public domain, copyright. In mid-20th century, Europe book production had risen to over 200,000 titles per year.