An incunabulum is a book, single sheet, or image that was printed — not handwritten — before the year 1501 in Europe. These are usually very rare and fragile items whose nature can only be verified by experts. The origin of the word is the Latin incunabula for "swaddling clothes", used by extension for the infancy or early stages of something. The first recorded use of incunabula as a printing term is in a pamphlet by Bernard von Mallinckrodt, "Of the rise and progress of the typographic art", published in Cologne in 1639, which includes the phrase prima typographicae incunabula, "the first infancy of printing". The term came to denote the printed books themselves from the late 17th century.
There are two types of incunabula: the xylographic (made from a single carved or sculpted block for each page) and the typographic (made with movable type on a printing press in the style of Johann Gutenberg). Many authors reserve the term incunabulum for the typographic ones only. The end date for identifying a book as an incunabulum is convenient, but was chosen arbitrarily. It does not reflect any notable developments in the printing process around the year 1500. Incunabula usually refers to the earliest printed books, completed at a time when some books were still being hand-copied. The gradual spread of printing ensured that there was great variety in the texts chosen for printing and the styles in which they appeared. Many early typefaces were modelled on local forms of writing or derived from the various European forms of Gothic script, but there were also some derived from documentary scripts (such as most of Caxton's types), and, particularly in Italy, types modelled on humanistic hands. These humanistic typefaces are often used today, barely modified, in digital form.
Printers tended to congregate in urban centres where there were scholars, ecclesiastics, lawyers, nobles and professionals who formed their major customer-base. Standard works in Latin inherited from the medieval tradition formed the bulk of the earliest printing, but as books became cheaper, works in the various vernaculars (or translations of standard works) began to appear. Famous incunabula include the Gutenberg Bible of 1455 and the Liber Chronicarum of Hartmann Schedel, printed by Anton Koberger in 1493. Other well-known incunabula printers were Albrecht Pfister of Bamberg, Günther Zainer of Augsburg, Johann Mentelin of Strasbourg and William Caxton of Bruges and London.
The design of the books shows all the characteristics of a transitional period: Although they still resemble their medieval counterparts where ornamentation, initials and bordering are concerned they are certainly no longer as dark and dense as the medieval illuminated manuscripts: Already we see a move towards whiter, lighter pages. Some of this can also be attributed to the import of paper manufacturing technologies which lessened the cost of book production. While columns were already present during earlier times, during the incunabula book designers far greater use of them for design purposes. The gridding which set type necessitated technologically caused the books to adhere to a grid system, yet another novelty in design.
introduction of rag paper
Some historians speculate that paper was the key element in global cultural advancement. According to this theory, Chinese culture was less developed than the West in ancient times prior to the Han Dynasty because bamboo, while abundant, was a clumsier writing material than papyrus; Chinese culture advanced during the Han Dynasty and preceding centuries due to the invention of paper; and Europe advanced during the Renaissance due to the introduction of paper and the printing press.
Paper remained a luxury item through the centuries, until the advent of steam-driven paper making machines in the 19th century, which could make paper with fibres from wood pulp. Although older machines predated it, the Fourdrinier paper making machine became the basis for most modern papermaking. Together with the invention of the practical fountain pen and the mass produced pencil of the same period, and in conjunction with the advent of the steam driven rotary printing press, wood based paper caused a major transformation of the 19th century economy and society in industrialized countries. Before this era a book or a newspaper was a rare luxury object and illiteracy was normal. With the gradual introduction of cheap paper, schoolbooks, fiction, non-fiction, and newspapers became slowly available to nearly all the members of an industrial society. Cheap wood based paper also meant that keeping personal diaries or writing letters ceased to be reserved to a privileged few. The office worker or the white-collar worker was slowly born of this transformation, which can be considered as a part of the industrial revolution.
During the incunabula period, Europeans used rags to make paper by the following method: the rags were cut into small pieces; fermented; ground by watermill; and scooped into a mould to dry. Therefore handmade paper does not have a uniform thickness; it varies in thickness according to the mesh of the mould. If held against the light, the thinner part of handmade paper appears brighter, and it is possible to detect thick lines spaced several centimeters apart, as well as thin lines closely spaced crossing the thick lines at a right angle. The thick lines are referred to as the "chain line" and the thin lines the "wire line."
reading and images
Block printing, whereby individual sheets of paper were pressed into wooden blocks with the text and illustrations carved into them, was first recorded in Chinese history, and was in use in East Asia long before Gutenberg. By the 12th and 13th centuries, many Chinese libraries contained tens of thousands of printed books. The Chinese and Koreans knew about moveable metal type at the time, but because of the complexity of the movable type printing it was not as widely used as in Renaissance Europe.
It is not clear whether Gutenberg knew of these existing techniques, or invented them independently, although the former is considered unlikely because of the substantial differences in technique. Some also claim that the Dutchman Laurens Janszoon Coster was the first European to invent movable type.
Gutenberg certainly introduced efficient methods into book production, leading to a boom in the production of texts in Europe — in large part, owing to the popularity of the Gutenberg Bibles, the first mass-produced work, starting on February 23, 1455. Even so, Gutenberg was a poor businessman, and made little money from his printing system.
Gutenberg began experimenting with metal typography after he had moved from his native town of Mainz to Strasbourg (then in Germany, now France) around 1430. Knowing that wood-block type involved a great deal of time and expense to reproduce, because it had to be hand-carved, Gutenberg concluded that metal type could be reproduced much more quickly once a single mould had been fashioned.
In 1455, Gutenberg demonstrated the power of the printing press by selling copies of a two-volume Bible (Biblia Sacra) for 300 florins each. This was the equivalent of approximately three years' wages for an average clerk, but it was significantly cheaper than a handwritten Bible that could take a single monk 20 years to transcribe. The one copy of the Biblia Sacra dated 1455 went to Paris, and was dated by the binder. (View the Gutenberg Bible)
The Gutenberg Bibles surviving today are sometimes called the oldest surviving books printed with movable type — although actually, the oldest such surviving book is the Jikji, published in Korea in 1377. However, it is still notable, in that the print technology that produced the Gutenberg Bible marks the beginning of a cultural revolution unlike any that followed the development of print culture in Asia. The Gutenberg Bible lacks many print features that modern readers are accustomed to, such as pagination, word spacing, indentations, and paragraph breaks.
Golden canon of page construction
Building on Rosarivo's work, contemporary experts in book design such as Jan Tschichold and Richard Hendel, assert as well that the page proportion of the golden section (21:34), has been used in book design, in manuscripts, and incunabula, mostly in those produced between 1550 and 1770. Hendel writes that since Gutenberg's time, books have been most often printed in an upright position, that comform losely, if not precisely, to the golden ratio.
reading and images
reading and images