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Medieval and Byzantine History Medieval and Byzantine History Forum - Period of History between classical antiquity and modern times, roughly the 5th through 16th Centuries

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Old December 14th, 2012, 07:57 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by Gudenrath View Post
As is probably known the printing press had been invented in China.
The printing press was not invented in China. Printing was invented China, but they did not use a mechanical press in their printing, and when we say printing press, we are talking about an invention that had key features that Chinese printing lacked.

The features of Gutenburg printing press that were unique that made it a success were:

1. Not just movable type, but movable type made of type metal. Type metal has unusual property that it expands when it cools, which in ensures the type face remains sharp. The vast majority of metals shrink when they they harden from a liquid to a solid, which means more work refining the type after casting the letters. Type metal was unique to Gutenburg.

2. Gutenburg used a hard steel punch to make the copper molds to cast the movable type. With a steel punch, you could make lots of copper molds that could be sold to other print shops. The only part of printing that requires a skill craftsman is the making of the punch.

In contrast, the metal movable type used in Asian printing was made from wooden punches that created sand cast molds to create the type. Sand molds are destoyed after casting, so you would need the original punches to create more lype. Gutenburg method was better, because of one set steel punches could mass produce large numbers of permanent molds that could be used to create movable type.

3. Type metal, which is a lead-tin-antimony alloy, had a much, low melting temperature, making it much easier to cast than the bronze type used in Asia. Antimony was a key ingredient in type metal composition. It makes the lead alloy hard enough to be used for printing, and also gave it the property of expanding when cooling.

4. The printing press itself is required to print on parchment and the harder European paper. Chinese paper is more absorbent, and you can easily print by pressing a block in by hand. Parchment, being less absorbent, would have required more force to imprint, and so using a mechanical press was probably required for successful European printing.

5. Gutenburg had to develop a new printer ink to stick to his metal type. Existing inks would not stick to the metal type, and so unsuitable for printing.

For developing successful printing, it required a lot time and money. To buy all the metal for the type, for example, required a sizeable investment, as well as the press itself. To make a copy by hand, all you need is a scribe with a pen, ink, and some paper, a lot less of an investment. We know as much about Gutenburg as we do because of the lawsuits that resulted from the debts he incurred while developing his printing press. *The reason we don't see his invention sooner is partly economical and partly technological:

A. During classical times, large numbers of literate slaves made copying by hand relatively cheap, reducing the cost benefit of printing. Medieval Europe did not have that supply of cheap scribes, making printing more attractive.

B. The chief writing material of classical times, papyrus, is not suitable for printing, being too brittle. Parchment can be printed on, but it is expensive, and even with printing, books would still be expensive. It was until paper became widely available in medieval Europe that the full economic benefit could be realized.

C. Until the alloys of antimony had been developed, only other less suitable alloys would have be available.;
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Old December 15th, 2012, 09:16 AM   #12

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Excellent post Bart Dale. You nailed it.
To sum up, a la bumper sticker: Every great technological advance is preceded by the perfecting of many smaller technologies.
FYI The first paper mill in Germany was established the same year Gutenburg was born.
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Old December 15th, 2012, 11:05 AM   #13

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To add to some already excellant post....

The middle class craftsman, berghers,...etc....were becoming more wealthy and educated as well. This added to the demand.
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Old December 15th, 2012, 03:03 PM   #14
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I found an excellent article by a Korean professor discussing Korean metal type printing and comparing it to western (Gutenberg) style printing - see link below. Presumably, Chinese metal type printing was similar


What was interesting is that Korea style metal type printing could only manage around 40 pages a day, versus 300 pages for Gutenberg printing press. The article didn't explain why only the Korea style bronze metal type only managed 40 pages a day, but I assume it was due to the set up time because of the complex Chinese characters being used. In contrast, using wood block printing you could print many more pages a day, at least comparable to Gutenberg press, if not somewhat greater. (I have seen articles that said Chinese block printing could do up to 1000 to 1500 pages a day, but I have also read similar numbers quote for Gutenberg printing. The 300 pages a day is a conservative number, and seems to include the set up time for the page of type.)

The big advantage of Gutenberg over the Chinese printing, is that once the set of steel punches were made, enough type molds could be made off of them to supply a number of different printing presses and separate print shops. In contrast, each carved block could only support one print shop. The making of the steel punches, and the carving of the wooden printing blocks, are the only part of printing that requires a real skilled craftsman. Base on experience with using steel dies to stamp coins, which would have been a similar process, a single harden steel punch should have been able to create thousands of copper type molds for making type. Even if the steel was a harder to carve than wood, the advantage clearly favored the Gutenberg process in terms of economics. That is why Gutenberg printing press completely displaced hand written books, while Chinese style printing never entirely displace hand written books.
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