A Brief History of Type

Thomas W. Phinney contributes the following discussion of the history.

It is difficult to cover all the developments and movements of typography in a short space. My separation of evolving technologies from the development of typefaces is an artificial one---designs and the technology used to create them are not truly separable---but perhaps it is conceptually useful.
Where names of typefaces are used, I attempt to use the original name: there are often clones with very similar names.
I shall update, clarify and correct this essay periodically, and will be happy to credit contributors. I can be e-mailed on CompuServe at 75671,2441 (Internet: tphinney@compuserve.com).

Type Technology — The Four Revolutions

Gutenberg (ca. 1450-1480) & The Impact of Printing
Before the printing press, books were produced by scribes (at first, primarily based in monasteries, although by the 12th century there were many lay copiers serving the university market). The process of writing out an entire book by hand was as labor-intensive as it sounds (try it some time): so much so that a dozen volumes constituted a library, and a hundred books was an awe- inspiring collection.

This remained true until the invention of movable type, the perfection of which is attributed to Johannes Gutenberg (although the Chinese had it several centuries earlier, and a Dutch fellow named Coster may have had some crude form a decade earlier). Gutenberg, although a man of vision, did not personally profit from his invention. He worked for over a decade with borrowed capital, and his business was repossessed by his investors before the first mass-produced book was successfully printed — the Gutenberg Bible of 1454, printed in Mainz by Fust and Schoeffer.
Gutenberg's basic process remained unchanged for centuries. A punch made of steel, with a mirror image of the letter is struck into a piece of softer metal. Molten metal is poured into this, and you get type. The type is put into a matrix to form the page of text, inked, then pressed into paper.

Within several decades typesetting technology spread across Europe. The speed with which it did so is impressive: within the first fifty years, there were over a thousand printers who set up shops in over two hundred European cities. Typical print runs for early books were in the neighborhood of two hundred to a thousand books.

Some of these first printers were artisans, while others were just people who saw an opportunity for a quick lira/franc/pound. The modern view of a classical era in which craftsmanship predominated appears unjustified to scholars: there has always been fine craft, crass commercialism, and work that combines both.

To those who have grown up with television, radio, magazines, books, movies, faxes and networked computer communications it is difficult to describe just how much of a revolution printing was. It was the first mass medium, and allowed for the free spread of ideas in a completely unprecedented fashion. The Protestant Reformation might not have occurred, or might have been crushed, without the ability to quickly create thousands of copies of Luther's Theses for distribution.

Many groups sought to control this new technology. Scribes fought against the introduction of printing, because it could cost them their livelihoods, and religious (and sometimes secular) authorities sought to control what was printed. Sometimes this was successful: for centuries in some European countries, books could only be printed by government authorized printers, and nothing could be printed without the approval of the Church. Printers would be held responsible rather than authors for the spread of unwanted ideas, and some were even executed. But this was a largely futile struggle, and most such restraints eventually crumbled in the western world.[Ler mais...]