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Posts Tagged ‘printing press’

All right, it’s time to get back in the groove with the real topic of this blog; however, I am going to ease into it slowly.

I suspect everyone knows at least something about how significant the printing press has been in spreading the written word, including the Bible. The impact of the printing press has rightfully been compared to that of the computer for our own time. Suddenly books no longer had to be created by the tedious process of being copied by hand. Instead, once a page of type was set using individual letters, hundreds of copies could be made in a relatively short period of time. Another advantage of the printing press was accuracy. No more textual variants. If the type was set correctly, then all the copies would be accurate.

Actually printing in some form goes back to 3000 B.C. The first use of moveable type was around A.D. 1040 in China, but it never became widely used, possibly because of the large number of characters in the Chinese alphabet.

The modern printing press was perfected by Johannes Gutenberg in Germany. Virtually everyone knows that the first printed book was a Bible (the Gutenberg Bible). It probably took several years to perfect, so a period of around 1452-1455 is probably the time frame for its creation. Although printed in Germany, the Gutenberg Bible was the Latin Vulgate, the official Bible of the Roman Catholic Church. It was printed on parchment, not paper. Here is a picture of a Gutenberg Bible. As you can see, it is quite ornate.

Gutenberg Bible

Okay, so much for boring history. Here is the bit of trivia I want to share today. As we have already said, the printing press made use of moveable type, individual letters which could be placed on a frame, spelling out the page that was to be printed. Since they were made in reverse, when they were inked and the page pressed against the parchment or paper, the impression would print the letters correctly.

But all these hundreds of individual letters had to be stored somewhere, and they needed to be readily available and organized, so that a skilled typesetter could set a page of type quickly. Therein lies an interesting story. The original printing presses were huge pieces of equipment. It became efficient to build in two large drawers or “cases” one on top of the other in which to store the letters of type. For whatever reason, it became standard practice to store the larger capital letters in the “upper case” and the smaller letters in the “lower case.” Today, we still use the terms “upper case” and “lower case” letters in describing our alphabet. Now you know where those terms came from.

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Daniel B. Wallace

Executive Director of CSNTM & Senior Research Professor of NT Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary

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