Early Western Printing

Today’s books, like many other things in this era, are mass-produced by automated machines in factories, providing us with plenty of the books we desire at the lowest possible cost. This is great for our fast-paced, population-dense society, although it may seem like a somewhat disappointing and lifeless reality for book-lovers who romanticize “book,” in both form and essence. Many modern bibliophiles get amazed and dreamy-eyed when faced with a book from the earlier days of printing, purely because of the artistry involved; countless people don’t even read these old books, and merely collect them or use them for decoration, as they are so pleasing to behold. You can picture it now: the dusty, colorfully gilded covers and spines of pre-20th century books lining mahogany bookshelves, or laid artfully on an antique desk bathed in the sleepy light from the window above it. The elegance and beauty of this scene¬†implies the grace, solitude, and contemplation that some people feel may have been robbed of us in this age, as our books are pumped out of the assembly line. If you’re one of these people, or are still interested in the practices of olde, or merely want to understand the methods behind and details of Dr. Poste’s 16th century books on this website, read on.

Crash Course in Hand-Press Printing (1500-1800)

So, you’ve opened a 16th century book, and feel a bit lost.

The pages look different, with their wide margins, strange paratextual markings, and odd texture. The outside is intimidating with its heavy wooden cover affixed with iron clasps; you’re not quite sure where to start making heads or tails of such a familiar yet foreign object. How was this made, and who would or could ever be able to use it? This massive collection of pages was certainly not mass-produced, and you can feel its personalized aura as you look over its carefully planned, yet imperfect, details. There is a centuries-old tradition behind books like these, and the comprehensive specifics involved take people years to fully understand. So, if you don’t have quite that long, here is a wonderfully informational video to get you started:

More detail on the process outlined in this video can be found on the pages accompanying this one on the site: The Page – Creation, The Page – Characteristics, and Binding. The information discussed will give you the tools you need to better understand the books donated by Dr. Leslie Poste to Milne Library at SUNY Geneseo.

“The Art of Making a Book,” YouTube, accessed January 18, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T17aCX2iBBY.