Before Print: Manuscripts
Above: A fragment of a leaf from Pope Gregory I’s Moralia in Job, a work of Biblical commentary. This is the oldest manuscript in our collection and may date from the 12th century. The fragment appears to have later been reused as a limp binding for another work. Pieces of old or obsolete manuscripts were frequently reused to bind early printed works.
Background photograph: A leaf from a French breviary containing verses from the Book of Genesis, including the Creation of Man. The leaf features illuminated initials featuring floral designs in bright colours and burnished gold.
Johannes Guteberg revolutionized book production when he invented the printing press around 1440 and soon developed a robust and efficient system for printing books using cast movable type. The new technology allowed books to be created quickly, relatively cheaply, and in vast numbers, forever changing the way that ideas and texts were spread. From Gutenberg’s workshop in Mainz, the technology spread rapidly and within a few decades print workshops had been established across Europe, pushing manuscript production in Europe into decline.
Early printed works often tried to emulate manuscripts by continuing to include such design elements as rubrication (the addition of red text for headings or emphasis), large decorative initials, and illumination added by an artist after the book was printed. This leaf from a book of hours from Paris from around 1510 (0225-05) is printed but the initials and borders were painted in later by hand. This leaf is a terrific example of how traditional manuscript methods and new printing technologies co-existed for a time. As demand for printed books increased, hand-finishing declined, reducing costs.
The invention of printing with movable type increased the variety and number of books available for readers and helped expand book ownership and literacy to new classes of merchants and civil servants. Printing allowed large runs of a work to be printed quickly and cheaply, making books far more affordable.
New readership also led to changes in the type of books published. While religious books such as books of hours, psalters, and Bibles continued to be popular, the market for books on secular topics grew rapidly, leading to an explosion of histories, literature, medical and scientific works, books of rhetoric, herbals, and even cook books.
Image: A leaf from Hieronymus Bock's New Kreuterbuch von Underscheidt, Würckung und Namen der Kreuter, so in teutschen Landen wachsen (New plant book of differences, effects, and names of plants that grow in German lands), a herbal describing the properties and uses of plants. Herbals, along with medical and scientific texts, were often difficult to print because of their frequent and detailed illustrations and diagrams. The Kreuterbuch (0086-08) is notable because Bock chose to classify the 700 plants he covered according to their observed characteristics, an innovation that anticipated modern botany, whereas earlier herbals had categorized plants according to Classical Greek systems.
The Early Print Collection also contains examples of early printed works in English such as A Booke of Christian Prayers (1590), The Workes of… Geffrey Chaucer (1598), and leaves from histories and hagiographies. Of special note is a beautifully illuminated French book of hours, Hore beate Marie viriginis, printed in Paris around 1521.
Created with an image by Marcus dePaula - "untitled image"All other images provided by MRU Archives and Special Collections Drucker, Johanna. History of the Book. UCLA. Retrieved by September 2, 2020. https://hob.gseis.ucla.edu/index.html "Printing press type" [Photograph]. Retrieved September 2, 2020. Pixabay.com The Nuremberg Chronicle: Selections from the Rare Book Room. Duke Magazine. June 1, 2002. https://alumni.duke.edu/magazine/articles/nuremberg-chronicle