Publishing Students hand-press print at the Bodleian
Students from the MAs in Publishing at the Oxford International Centre for Publishing Studies at Oxford Brookes University recently visited the Bodleian Library, where they learned about the theory and practice of hand-press printing.
Guided by Paul Nash (who is also a PhD student at the Oxford International Centre for Publishing Studies), students found out more about the development of printing in the 15th century, and then had the opportunity to set their own type and print a keepsake. MA student Marina Debattista writes about the experience:
'For me the visit to the Bodleian hand printing workshop was an exercise in tactility and a reminder that the history of print is one of successive (and successful) eliminations, an irreversible displacement from matter and weight to the imponderable and intangible.
'Traces of these displacements are still locked in various usages of language. Take the words upper case and lower case, for instance. They mean capitals and small letters to us, mere signs on paper, but they once referred to the wooden receptacles with compartments for type. In the ergonomic environment of the early printing shop the case containing capitals was placed UP while the case containing small letters was placed DOWN at the compositor's fingertips. Handling type was a tactile job, leaving marks on the compositor's finger that were characteristic enough to give him away (I wrote deliberately he and him, as it was illegal for women to print, though they could own a print shop).
'The visit to the Bodleian hand press was also a reminder of the time scale of the printing process: seven years of apprenticeship, one year for the manufacturing of one set of font faces, and a speed of hand printing of two hundred sheets per hour. Though laborious, slow and artisanal, the printing process was responsible for the first mass-product ever produced - the book. The uniformity of the printed page was soon to become the standard of any mass - produced object.
'Finally, the visit to the Bodleian hand press allowed me to experience an abbreviated but nonetheless rewarding printing process - typesetting, inking the plate and running it through the press.'