Learning Index >> Calligraphy: an education in letter form

Historical context >> The impact of printing
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Until the invention of printing in the mid-fifteenth century calligraphy was the only means of production for all the documents that literate European society needed. As time passed printing took over more of these functions, but the process was surprisingly slow. Until the last decade of the seventeenth century only the cities of London, Oxford and Cambridge were licensed by the King to have printing presses, there were none in any other parts of the British Isles. Much production was still done by hand, for example all the poetry of John Donne was produced, in his lifetime, solely in handwritten editions. Such editions could number up to 800 copies at a time. Early newspapers were handwritten by teams of scribes employed to send news from the town to gentlemen subscribers in the country on a weekly or monthly basis. It was only in the early Eighteenth century that printing became a ubiquitous fact of life.

By the early nineteenth century the industrial revolution was ensuring that print had a greatly increased role to play. Printing was a necessity for a society that required increasing regulation and co-ordination across growing organisations in distributed locations. Alongside this development grew the infra structures that enabled printed material to be distributed, examples are the penny post, the lending library system, and the railways.

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