From Handwriting to Letterpress: The “Information Revolution” and the Written Word

Printing, painstaking though it may seem to our modern perceptions, allowed for massive changes in the dissemination of information. Gutenberg’s invention enabled the increased flow of information, but printing also allowed for accuracy of information to be assured, as well. Due to its ability to be reproduced in such massive amounts, the appearance of printed word is key. Through the selection of fonts, papers, and ink colors, the character of a written tract is determined.

An interesting point in the evolution of the printed word was its ability to transform the many vagaries of handwriting into uniform, standardized fonts and letters. The artistry required to generate these fonts must have been massive. In our class project, my assigned font was Bembo in 12 point. In research for this blog post, I was amazed at the information available on this single font: its history traces back to 1495 and is named after Pietro Bembo, a famed 16th century Venetian poet and literary theorist.

Through working hands-on with this type, and the intricate processes associated with letterpress printing, I was amazed at the sheer amount of labor it takes to produce the smallest piece of text. It took several hours of setting type, placing it into position, printing, adjusting, and printing again, to produce any kind of final product. When comparing this form, however, to antiquated styles of handwriting and calligraphy, however, one understands how printing is such a revolutionary form of information exchange. It is a very front-heavy form of text creation: once the groundwork has been set, hundreds of copies of a text can be generated with relative ease. I learned this when creating my own text; despite the many hours it took to create the correct alignment of type, the prints themselves were printed in less than half an hour. Compared to hand-copying each line of text, the speed at which written word can be generated with the aid of a press is truly fantastic.

"Bamboo 12 point" lead type, Maryland Institute College of Art. Photograph by Diana Tappert.

“Bembo 12 point” lead type, Maryland Institute College of Art. Photograph by Diana Tappert.

Globe Poster-themed information and guidelines on the walls of the printing studio, Maryland Institute College of Art. Photograph by Diana Tappert.

Globe Poster-themed information and guidelines on the walls of the printing studio, Maryland Institute College of Art. Photograph by Diana Tappert.

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