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An Introduction to Printing

introduction : early history of printing : printing in europe : the spread of print : printing in england : printing in scotland : later printing illustration : type faces - gothic or black letter : roman : italic : paper : paper manufacture

Testament of Cresseid, 1532

Image courtesy of University of Glasgow Library - view details

Gothic or Black letter

Printing developed out of the desire to speed up the process of making books, which before Gutenberg’s invention of printing was done by hand. The text of a manuscript (as these hand-made books were known), was written out by an individual known as a scribe. These scribes were very skilled, and developed uniform styles of writing, although the work of each scribe was subject to considerable variation. However, these writing styles (known as ‘hands’) also developed a very angular appearance as well as abbreviations and contractions, which made them appear ‘heavy’, complicated, and therefore difficult to read

The first printed books had type faces which attempted to copy closely the styles of hand writing used by scribes, and are known as ‘black-letter’ type faces, as they also appear heavy, angular, and compressed. To the modern eye books printed in back-letter type faces are difficult to read at first, but they remained the most commonly used type faces in the early years of printing, and for the printing of certain texts for many years afterwards, such as Bibles, prayer books, and law books

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