Philobiblon: Those printing nuns at Syon...

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Those printing nuns at Syon...

William Caxton started printing in England, then his sidekick De Worde took over, and whosh, next thing you know you are drowning in a sea of Elizabethan pamphlets, nearly all printed by men, with the odd widow thrown in. That's right, isn't it?

Well oddly enough, it seems there are some unmarried women in the tale, but, surprise, surprise, they've disappeared...

"Single-leaf prints were multiple reproductions of the same image, often accmpanied by xylographic text, that is, with text produced in relief print from a wood-block, painstakingly cut letter by letter ..."

On the Continent the Bridgettine order was well-known for producing these for devotional purposes, with many surviving example being associated with a general chapter held in 1487 at Gnadenberg in the Upper Palatine. There are also a number of English examples, probably printed at the rich and important Syon abbey, in Isleworth (up the Thames from London).

Block books, "printed from wood-blocks, were once thought to represent an interim stage between single-;eaf prints and books printed with moveable type. Paper analysis has shown, however, that block books cannot be dated any earlier than 1460-1470, post-dating the invention of printing with moveable type for at least a ecade. .. generally considered a more primtive technology, but it may not have been so regarded when both were new ad existed side by side."

From: Driver, M.W. The Image in Print: Book Illustration in Late MedievaL England and its Sources, The British Library, 2004.

(Although I suppose to fair, gender issues aren't the only thing at work here; they were on the "wrong" side, religious-wise.)


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