Kathleen Kamerick

title.none: Brown, The British Library Guide to Writing and Scripts; Twyman, The British Library Guide to Printing; Marks, The British Library Guide to Bookbinding (Kamerick)

identifier.other: baj9928.9912.005 99.12.05

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Kathleen Kamerick , University of Iowa,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1999

identifier.citation: Brown, Michelle. The British Library Guide to Writing and Scripts: History and Techniques. The Brittish Library Guides. Toronto and Buffalo: The British Library, 1998. Pp. 1, 96. $19.95. ISBN: 0-802-08172-X. Twyman, Michael. The British Library Guide to Printing: History and Techniques. The British Library Guides. Toronto and Buffalo: The British Library, 1998. Pp. 1, 88. $19.95. ISBN: 0-802-08179-7. Marks, Philippa. The British Library Guide to Bookbinding: History and Techniques. The British Library Guides. Toronto and Buffalo: The British Library, 1998. Pp. 1, 96. $45.00. ISBN: 0-802-08176-2.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 99.12.05

Brown, Michelle. The British Library Guide to Writing and Scripts: History and Techniques. The Brittish Library Guides. Toronto and Buffalo: The British Library, 1998. Pp. 1, 96. $19.95. ISBN: 0-802-08172-X.

Twyman, Michael. The British Library Guide to Printing: History and Techniques. The British Library Guides. Toronto and Buffalo: The British Library, 1998. Pp. 1, 88. $19.95. ISBN: 0-802-08179-7.

Marks, Philippa. The British Library Guide to Bookbinding: History and Techniques. The British Library Guides. Toronto and Buffalo: The British Library, 1998. Pp. 1, 96. $45.00. ISBN: 0-802-08176-2.

Reviewed by:

Kathleen Kamerick
University of Iowa

The history of the book has commanded increasing attention in recent years, with new journals such as Book History and organizations like the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing (SHARP) and the Early Book Society devoted to the study of such topics as book production and dissemination, reading practices, patronage, the transmission of texts, and the work of individual scribes, printers, and publishers. A number of medievalists have made important contributions to this field: the essays of Richard H. Rouse and Mary A. Rouse, the many studies of Christopher de Hamel, and recent collections such as Women and the Book: Assessing the Visual Evidence, edited by Jane H. M. Taylor and Lesley Smith (London: The British Library, 1997), to name just a few, demonstrate the vitality of book studies and its significance for our understanding of medieval culture. These works show the interdisciplinary nature of the history of the book, which often brings together the concerns of such varied disciplines as art history, religious and intellectual history, and women's history.

While the study of book history may take diverse approaches, there is no doubt that the physical artifact of the book itself has much to teach about the conditions of its creation and use. The series of books under review here, first published by the British Library, and now reissued for North America by the University of Toronto Press, are excellent introductions to various aspects of the physical book. Each of these short and heavily illustrated volumes comprises a compact history, glossary, and concise manual of techniques for its topic. Together these three books form a superlative primer for anyone interested in the technologies that produced books, both handwritten and printed, and the forces that over the centuries have directed changes in the physical condition of the book.

Michelle P. Brown, Curator of Illuminated Manuscripts at the British Library, has published extensively on illuminated books and historical scripts. Her book Writing And Scripts: History and Techniques is more expansive than the title indicates. In the first chapter, "Why Writing?" Brown reviews a wide variety of forms of "graphic message transmission" [11] including the Australian churingas [carvings on wood or stone], Iroquois wampum belts, and Celtic message sticks. She considers the past and present functions of pictography, or picture writing, pointing to its use among Native Americans who kept a visual record of events on hides, and its current popularity among computer users who use icons to access software programs. This chapter also provides unusually coherent definitions and descriptions of logography (in which a symbol denotes a word), the rebus, and ideography (in which symbols represent ideas), as well as an exemplary discussion of the relationship of Chinese and Japanese forms of writing. Brown notes some of the far-reaching consequences of Japan's complex writing systems, one of which was the invention of the fax machine, which so easily handles the thousands of handwritten characters used in Japanese.

Brown's discussion of cuneiform, hieroglyphics, and the western alphabet are similarly well-informed and illustrated; in fact, photographs of Sumerian cuneiform tablets, Mayan glyphs, Celtic ogham inscriptions, and other writing systems form an essential part of her explanations. The visual impact of writing, including its sheer aesthetic appeal, can be a key to understanding its use. In addition to discussing the historical dimensions of writing systems, Brown also makes cultural arguments about them. She questions, for example, the western evaluation of the alphabet as a superior system, pointing out that many parts of the world still prefer "the consonantal Arabic, the syllabic Indian and the ideographic Chinese." [42] The first chapter ends with a fascinating review of how some ancient scripts (like Linear B) have been deciphered, and why some (Proto-Elamite script, the Pictish symbol system) have not.

The second chapter of Writing and Scripts focuses on the materials and processes that people have used to produce writing. Illustrations show the variety of writing materials employed over millennia, including stone, papyrus, animal hides, parchment, wood, paper, clay, and bone. Brown points to the reusable wax tablet as one of the most successful writing supports ever devised, used by ancient Assyrians, Roman schoolboys, medieval accountants, and the 19th-century fishermen of Dieppe. She stresses that changes in technology-- from roll to codex, from papyrus to parchment to paper, from the quill pen to the ball-point and the typewriter, and now to electronic formats--have inevitably involved loss. In each era of technological shift, some works are not selected for copying into the new format when it becomes clear, as Brown says, "that not everything can be kept."[57] Today librarians and others face this issue again, as limited funds prevent copying all written materials into new formats (such as microform or CD- ROMs) whose own longevity, as Brown notes, is untested.

Medievalists may find the third chapter, "Writing in the West", the most interesting. An excellent description of the stages of producing a medieval illuminated manuscript are accompanied by thirteenth-century illuminations that show a scribe preparing parchment, designing the layout by pricking and ruling, writing, erasing text with pumice, and illuminating. Brown discusses the working procedures for producing manuscripts, describing how scribes and artists worked together in the early medieval monastic scriptorium and later in secular ateliers. She also traces the development of western scripts from Roman square capitals to the Bastard secretary of the fifteenth century. Ever attentive to social and political contexts, Brown points out how Caroline minuscule was promoted at the expense of national hands in the ninth and tenth centuries, explains why Gothic script later became the most common hand in Europe, and describes how the high volume of writing needed by the chancery in Angevin England led to a fully cursive script.

Brown bemoans the modern era's lack of attention to writing, and in the last chapter she addresses the question of whether writing has a future. Her answer reiterates a basic theme of the book, that form follows function. While automated writing instruments like the computer will remain important, manual writing skills "continue to fulfill a useful role." [92] Handwriting is portable and inexpensive, requires simple tools, and at its height can be an art form that expresses the inner self. Not all readers will agree with her that for all these reasons "writing is here to stay," [92] but her book is eloquent testimony to the beauty and significance of writing in the past.

In The British Library Guide to Bookbinding: History and Techniques P. J. M. Marks, Curator of Bookbindings at the British Library, has written an introduction to western historical bindings for amateurs, including librarians and archivists responsible for the care of books, students of book history, and anyone who like Samuel Pepys might buy books "'for the love of the binding.'"[9] Marks provides a succinct history of the bookbinding trade from the early Middle Ages to the twentieth century, describing the conditions of life and work for binders, devoting a short section to women binders, and discussing bibliophiles whose patronage stimulated the creation of exquisitely crafted bindings. While the basic purpose of bindings is, of course, to protect the book, they also reflect their owners' wealth, taste, and interests. Marks shows that beautiful bindings have acted as "interior decoration," [25] as a means to attract attention to the writing inside them, and as gifts for soliciting patronage. People have bound books for profit, for piety, and for pleasure. Marks argues that studying bindings can thus shed light on an array of subjects, such as art and economics, and can also reveal information about book ownership and use.

Most of Bookbinding is devoted to the techniques of the craft, and might best be used as an extended glossary. There are two main sections: "forwarding" and "finishing." "Forwarding" presents a brief introduction to the basic physical book; it reviews the materials and procedures for making a codex, and provides capsule histories of paper, sewing methods, end-leaves, and boards and their coverings (animal skins and cloths). Exceptionally clear line drawings and photographs illustrate binding structure, sewing styles, the creation of endbands, and other parts of the book.

"Finishing" discusses techniques for decorating the codex, followed by a short but fascinating account of changes in decorative styles from the fifth to the twentieth centuries. Photographs of fabulous bindings, most from the British Library, show off the astonishing array of materials and methods used over the centuries to embellish books. Gold- tooling has been a popular method in the west since Europeans learned it from Islam in the fifteenth century, but binders have also used blind-tooling (darkening the leather with heated tools); panel stamps (designs pressed on to moistened leather covers); onlays of colored leather; treasure bindings of silver, ivory, or jewels; and innumerable other means to adorn books. Queen Elizabeth I preferred her books bound in velvet; Stuart noblewomen embroidered book covers; the daughters of the nineteenth-century poet laureate Robert Southey rebound his "books of lesser value" in chintz. Pictures painted on silk, vellum, paper, or wood made many bindings resplendent. The nineteenth century brought the industrialization of binding, but late in the century interest in the craft saw a revival that led to the famous Doves Bindery and the bindery of the Grolier Club in America. Craft binding continues to flourish in the twentieth century. Like their predecessors, modern binders experiment with new materials and designs. Although binding structures have stayed the same in many particulars over the centuries, bookbinding continues to attract the creative skills of artists and craftspeople.

Marks concludes with recommendations for managing binding collections, but of more use to the beginning student of bookbindings are the definitions of key terms at the end of the book and the carefully selected bibliography.

The British Library Guide to Printing: History and Techniques is another well illustrated and concise overview of one aspect of the history of books. The author, Michael Twyman, clearly states that this book reviews "how printing was done in the past" [7] rather than taking up "grander issues" such as the impact of printing on society. Printing certainly fulfills Twyman's promise to explain the changing techniques of the craft over the centuries, but it also connects innovations in printing to specific social changes.

The first chapter--titled simply "What is printing?"--explains the two distinct stages in producing any printed product: origination and multiplication. Origination refers to the "organization and production of the marks to be printed," [8] whether these are letters cut by hand, images made by computer, or marks made by a variety of other means. Gutenberg's achievement was to develop a way to replicate letters by casting them from matrices in a mold; these letters were reusable and could be arranged in rows in a metal frame. This method of origination allowed corrections to be made more easily than did wood block printing, and it has generally been taken to define printing. Twyman points out, however, that many printed products existed before Gutenberg: the Chinese printed from wood blocks by the seventh century, produced books from wood blocks by the ninth century, and invented the use of separate character types by the eleventh century. Korea developed methods for casting metal types, and Twyman includes a photograph of a 1434 book printed from bronze types in Seoul. Prior to Gutenberg's invention, Europe produced not only devotional wood block prints, such as the famous one of St. Christopher reproduced here, but even whole books printed from wood blocks. Twyman notes that wood block printing combined text and image much more easily than did Gutenberg's movable type, which introduced a period when text and image became increasingly divorced due to the technical difficulties involved in printing them together.

The second stage of printing is the multiplication of copies, a process that can be done without special equipment but which the printing press greatly accelerated. Speed of output, in fact, became the chief catalyst for new developments in printing, as printers strove to meet increasing demands for books, and later for maps, newspapers, magazines, and the other ephemeral items that formed the bulk of business for many printers.

From its beginning printing reproduced both images and words. At first, hand-colored initials and illuminations made early printed books look like manuscript books, but increasing numbers made this system impractical. Books became monochrome as printers, led in the sixteenth century by Robert Estienne in Paris, learned to distinguish the parts of a book through typography rather than color. Illustration continued to be difficult. The common press, for over three hundred years the basic wooden press used for relief printing, could reproduce woodcuts along with text, but not the more refined images made on intaglio plates. Printing engraved copper plates, for instance, required the rolling press, which was expensive and rarely used for text. For these technical reasons, Twyman argues, printers began to specialize in either textual materials (books, broadsheets, notices) or pictorial ones (scientific illustrations, bookplates).

Twyman credits the requirements of commerce and industry in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries with bringing major changes to printing. Modern life called for a constant supply of printed products, such as train timetables, tickets, banknotes, and of course various forms of advertising. Printers sought new methods to meet increased demand. Lithography, invented by Alois Senefelder in the late eighteenth century, resulted from a search for a cheaper method of printing. At the same time Thomas Bewick developed wood-engraving, which provided high quality relief illustrations and could be printed along with text in a single printing. Wood-engravings became wildly popular. Still, the clamor for more and more illustrations by magazines, newspapers and catalogs generated new processes for producing and duplicating images, of which the most important was photography. The nineteenth century also reintroduced the book with colored images and texts, responding in part, says Twyman, so the "antiquarian revival of interest in richly coloured medieval books." [61] Printers experimented with many methods to produce color, settling on chromolithography as the most reliable process.

The industrial revolution mechanized printing, but it proved easier to invent faster machines for printing than to accelerate the process of origination, the casting and composing of type. The Linotype and the Monotype finally solved this problem, and remained standards in the printing industry for decades. Their dominant position was undermined in the second half of the twentieth century by photocomposition which in turn has been displaced by the "digital revolution." Twyman believes that the consequences of electronic changes in printing may eventually overshadow the importance of Gutenberg's invention of movable type, but he also acknowledges that printing itself now competes with the electronic delivery of text and image. He argues, nonetheless, that people continue to prize the "tangibility and portability of printed matter." [82] To the current question of whether the codex book can survive the challenge of electronic texts, his answer would no doubt be a resounding yes.

One strength of Printing is Twyman's insistence that printing history must consider the production of both image and text, since the difficulty in printing the two together resulted in a number of experiments and changes. He provides clear explanations for a variety of technical processes, aided in almost every case by well chosen illustrations, ranging from a photograph of a common press to a series of images used to create a mezzotint portrait. Twyman condenses a great deal of information into fewer than ninety pages without losing clarity or interest. Like the companion volumes on writing and bookbinding, Printing offers a thoughtful bibliography for further reading. The three books together provide a fine introduction to the technologies of book production past and present, and also show that the study of the artifact of the book cannot be severed from the social, economic, and and cultural conditions that produced it.