Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Printing Press, and Where Books Come From

 By special guest Paige Shelton.

In the first book of my new Dangerous Type mystery series you’ll meet Clare Henry and her grandfather, Chester. Chester opened his shop, The Rescued Word, back in the 1950s. Along with repairing typewriters, Chester had a vision: he wanted to save all kinds of words, including those in books. He decided to learn how to repair books; bring them back to their original glory. This included mastering how to reprint badly damaged and unsalvageable pages.

Back in the 1950s there were no personal computers that might help with this task. Besides, it would have gone against Chester’s ways to use something like a computer to repair an old book. He wanted his own printing press, and he wanted one of the best. Of course, owning an original Gutenberg press would have been out of reach, so he decided to build his own – a perfect Gutenberg replica. 

A quick look back in time - clay tablets were probably the first books. From there, books took on many different forms with their pages being made of things like papyrus, bone, wood, silk, and parchment. Paper was invented in China around the first century A.D. For a time during the dark ages, silent monks would copy books. They weren’t allowed to correct their own mistakes (some historians believe this is because they were illiterate, and couldn’t read what they were copying) which is why the amount of errors grew as more manuscripts were copied.

The first moveable type printing presses appeared in Asia almost a thousand years ago with ceramic type (letters). It was Johannes Gutenberg, a goldsmith, who created the first press in the West for the Roman Empire around the year 1440. Gutenberg used metallic types and adapted screw presses to create his printing system. He created his own hand mold into which the liquid metal would be poured to create the type as it cooled and hardened. This was the beginning of the mechanization of bookmaking which led to the mass production of books in Europe. 

The world was changed. In fact, in the early 1600s English philosopher Frances Bacon said that printing was one of the three inventions that changed the world. (Incidentally, the other two were gun powder and the compass.)

They don’t pour their own molds at The Rescued Word, but with their typeface collections, they can reproduce almost any page from any book ever printed. Inside The Rescued Word, visitors and customers from all over the world can also have their old typewriters brought back to life, or find fine papers and writing instruments. There’s no sort of word that Chester and Clare can’t save.

We hope to see you there.

Thanks for letting me post today.  See you in the bookstores!

Ever since she was seven, Page Shelton never wanted to be anything but a writer, and is grateful to have the opportunity now.


  1. Thanks, Marlyn and Paige. Interesting information and I'm looking forward to reading the book.

    1. Thank you so much for dropping by and commenting, Patricia!

  2. Interesting - I've never heard monks weren't allowed to correct mistakes. Parchment could be (and was) scraped to remove things already written, so why not mistakes?

  3. Very interesting post! To Helvetica and Back is on my TBR LIST.📖📚

  4. Fascinating information, Page. Thanks for the lesson in printing. I love learning new things! Your books look very interesting. I'll check them out!

  5. Fun,neatly encapsulated historical piece.

  6. What a great posting today by Paige. I always like to learn something every day and this information did that. Thank you Paige. I am truly looking forward to reading The latest book in your/her series.
    Cynthia B.

  7. I'm curious about the monks not being able to correct their mistakes - although it's difficult to copy what you're reading without adding mistakes.

  8. Great post! Maybe you know the answer to a burning question I have. In the last 20 years, I see many more typos in published, traditionally published, books. Is that because typesetters don't catch them now and computers insert their own problems? How long has typesetting been computer driven?