Year 8 humanities students learned about early printing methods and the invention of modern presses during a recent lesson. They also tested methods of duplication, comparing handwritten techniques with basic printing to see which was more accurate and speedy.
The earliest methods of printing originated around the first century AD in China when characters were applied to paper using wooden blocks; surprisingly, it took a further nine centuries before the first Chinese paper money was printed!
When explorer Marco Polo returned from China to Italy in 1295, he introduced their printing method to the Venetians. However hand-carving blocks was time-consuming and they quickly became damaged and unusable.
It wasn’t until the 1430s that German goldsmith Johannes Gutenberg adapted an olive press and introduced movable mechanical typefaces and oil-based ink to produce the first modern printing press. It revolutionised the world and paved the way for a massive outpouring of communication, that arguably fuelled the Renaissance and Reformation and certainly changed print production methods forever.
Previously manuscripts had been hand-scribed and illustrated by monks and were so expensive that only churches, the monarchy and ruling classes had access to them. Gutenberg’s invention meant that documents and pamphlets were no longer confined to a select few and knowledge and literacy levels increased all over Europe.
The first major book ever printed by his method was the Gutenberg Bible in the 1450s, of which only 48 copies or major portions still survive. Eight are in existence in the UK with two owned by the British Library, an incomplete version in Lambeth Palace library and others at Oxford, Cambridge and Eton. Surviving copies are thought to be the most valuable books in the world and the last time one was sold for a total of $5.39m in 1978.
During a humanities lesson most of Mr Bidwell’s Year 8 class drew stars on paper while Meera Joshi and Ashley Loy made potato prints. The rest of the class only managed to average around 14 stars each in the time that Meera and Ashley had printed 60. Kelan Atkinson said: ‘As expected, the printing method was more accurate and quicker than handwritten methods.’
Mr Bidwell said: ‘The invention of the printing press changed the direction of the modern world introducing information and literacy to the masses in an unprecedented way. This lesson illustrated how pivotal that was, transferring knowledge from cloistered monasteries and palaces to ordinary citizens, paving the way for the Renaissance and starting an unstoppable wave of mass communication that still reverberates today.’