Celebrating the pioneers

I have been working with words since I started my apprenticeship as a proof-reader/compositor at the age of sixteen. That was a little over a month after England had won the World Cup!

In the intervening years, I have learnt about many people who have shaped the history of the printed word – people like Eric Gill and Adrian Frutiger (check them out!). But the pioneers we should all really look up to are Johann Gutenberg and William Caxton.

In the old days, vast tomes had to be hand-written by learned scribes using quills and woodcuts, but some time around 1445, while working as a goldsmith in his own factory in Mainz, Germany, Gutenberg invented the art of printing using movable type. Three years later, Gutenberg entered into partnership with Johann Fust, who financed a printing press, although the partnership lasted only seven years, when they fell out and Gutenberg was forced to give up his machinery, leaving him ruined.

However, Englishman William Caxton had been living in Bruges and later Cologne, where he learnt the art of printing. It was in Cologne that he published the first book in English.

Two years later, he set up his wooden press in Westminster and produced the Dictes of Sayengis of the Philosophres, the first book printed in England. He published over a hundred titles covering a remarkably wide range of subjects: school books, law books, religious and philosophical works, poetry (including Chaucer), historical literature and romances.

These days, books are taken for granted. In 2014, UK publishers released over twenty books per hour. This equates to around 184,000 new and revised titles in the year, making the UK the number one publisher per capita in the world, ahead of the unlikely second and third placed Taiwan and Slovenia. Of the UK’s total, around 60,000 were digital, a clear sign that REAL books still hold sway for the majority of the reading public.

If you haven’t done so lately… why not pick up a book now?

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