Producing text of my own through the classic printing press procedure completely revolutionized my view of texts made with a printing press. The compositor plays an intimate and personal role in crafting the texts, and every page is a direct result of their hard work. Even though they don’t write the texts by hand, the ability to produce a multitude of the same work allows a much faster and more efficient proliferation of their product.
The process behind producing these classic texts formed an entirely new industry and sub-culture, where everyone is deeply involved in the steps of producing a new piece of literature. The creation no longer involved just paper and ink, but also type and machinery. Each piece had to be produced with the other in mind: communication was key.
While the printing press allowed for the ability to mass produce documents quickly, I realized the actual setup was costly and time consuming. As such, in a similar way to how the winner of war writes the history, the wealthy and powerful determined what was immortalized and/or proliferated in print. Documents that only needed to be produced a few times were likely scribed instead, and thus never subject to public access. Likewise, a client with insufficient funds for a large print job likely wouldn’t be able to solicit services as it simply wouldn’t be economical for a printer to take on the job (I know I wouldn’t take on similar levels of work for less pay).
The growing usage of printing would have also motivated cultural norms / standards to develop. Pages needed to fit in the presses, paragraphs / bodies of text needed to be easily put together knowing it would both take up enough space to be efficient while simultaneously staying on the page. This trend also motivated the modern push for minimalism as a rejection to the idea of white space being wasted space.
In some ways, I feel the individuals involved in producing print where more connected to their work. While they didn’t necessarily produce everything by hand, they toiled over each letter piece by piece, felt the joy as it all come to fruition at once, had a say over the design and layout, and, as per my own experience, it was way easier to “zone out” when scribing as opposed to typesetting.
The print process is a unique piece of our history that allows for a look back at how our development of texts developed into the modern world. It is important to understand how the pieces fit to together to make one, clean product.