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Posts Tagged ‘history of books’

By Carol Ann Lloyd-Stanger

 

A title page on a Shakespearean printing press. (Image: Folger Library)

A title page on a Shakespearean printing press. (Image: Folger Library)

A few weeks ago, I had the chance to participate in a printing workshop at Folger using a replica of a printing press like the ones used in Shakespeare’s time. The invention and popularity of the printing press changed the way books were produced, increasing the output and cutting the cost of making a book. This was a technological revolution of its time, initiating an “information revolution” like the internet did in our day. Participating in the printing workshop reminded me of the power of the book.

 

Several months ago, I visited Maggs Brothers, a dealer of rare books in London. There I was able to see and handle several rare books. There’s something amazing about being in a room full of books that may have been a special possession of someone who lived in London while Shakespeare was there. Perhaps someone saved and carefully selected this volume, took days to select a particular binding, and kept it in a place of honor in her home. The value of any book includes a history of ownership, of discovery, of excitement. While I was in Maggs, one of the dealers had a package of books delivered. His delight at the receipt of these books was fascinating. He called his colleagues to watch him open the box and unwrap the books, showing each one and sharing the story of how he had discovered it.

 

In our day of desktop publishing and printing on demand, as well as tablets, the value of a book as an object is sometimes hard to remember. My experience at the printing workshop was a great reminder of how much effort went into the creation of a single volume.

 

First, we apprentices had our orientation. As all the participants were women that day, none of us would have been involved in printing in Shakespeare’s day when all compositors, printers, and publishers were men. But we forged ahead.

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Back in 2011, the 400th anniversary year of the King James Bible, the Folger partnered with the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford, with assistance from the Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, to produce the NEH-funded exhibition and website Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible. Ever since, a 14-panel Manifold Greatness exhibit, developed in partnership with the American Library Association, has been traveling to 40 libraries around the US that were awarded competitive, NEH-funded grants to host the exhibit and offer related public programs and outreach.

In this recent post from the Folger’s Manifold Greatness blog, Vickie Horst, manager of the Tifton-Tift County Public Library in Tifton, Georgia, gives a firsthand account of multi-generational learning at an April 2013 Manifold Greatness workshop entitled “Let’s Make a Quarto,” developed by a local retired educator.

—Esther Ferington, editor, Manifold Greatness blog

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Modern book making is a highly mechanized business. In the most common case, sheets of paper are piled together into a block, the spine edge might be sanded or notched, glue is applied, and a cover attached. There is little handcraft in the process, and when you consider the adage, “Good, cheap, and fast—you get to choose two,” modern glue binding is mostly cheap and fast.

On April 25, 2013, some Tifton-Tift County library patrons got an opportunity to see how book production might have occurred in 1611. Jerry Walker, a retired educator with a lifelong interest in the arts and a highly skilled crafter, led a workshop that we titled “Let’s Make a Quarto: a type of book made in the Renaissance era.” The workshop was held in the museum that houses the Manifold Greatness exhibit, so anyone who had not seen the exhibit got the opportunity to see it then, as well as make their own little book.

Advertised as a family activity, the workshop attracted a wide range of ages.

Advertised as a family activity, the workshop attracted a wide range of ages.

The basic idea behind a quarto is that a large sheet of paper is folded to make four smaller pages (hence the “quarto”). It was a very common way of producing books during the time of the King James Bible, allowing eight pages to be printed with only two trips through the press and using only one sheet of paper.

Some of our participants found out the hard way what this folding does to the orientation and the numbering of the pages. We suggested folding the paper, marking the page numbers and the bottom of the pages with a pencil, and then unfolding the page before decorating the pages with a story, stamps, stencils, pictures, and other decorations. (There was no glitter—we had used it all at the Renaissance Faire.) We got some great little stories and pictures. Some of them were upside down and in the wrong order, but we decided that you learn from mistakes, too.

The quarto workshop was held at the Tifton Museum, where Manifold Greatness is on display.

The quarto workshop was held at the Tifton Museum, where Manifold Greatness is on display.

Our amateur bookbinders learned how pages were made into “gathers” and then sewn together to make a finished book, ready to be bound. On the 16th of May, Tracy Iwaskow will be coming from Emory University’s Theology Library and will be bringing some selections from their special collections. Many of the participants are looking forward to seeing examples of the professional bookbinder’s craft.

Vickie Horst is the Manager of Tifton-Tift County Public Library in Tifton, Georgia.

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For more tips on quarto-making, ruff-making, pen-making, and ink-making, see our activities videos and accompanying PDFs on the Manifold Greatness website. You can also view the videos on our Manifold Greatness YouTube channel on this playlist. 

We invite you to learn more about the exhibition in Tifton and at other libraries and about the King James Bible on the Manifold Greatness blog, which will continue through mid-July of this year.

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