Typography can be understood mainly in two ways: as the art of composing and printing books or other works by means of mobile characters; or more simply as the workshop within which to carry out this action. In fact typography is also very often confused with printing. This term is in fact more generic, also including other works such as those on fabrics, metals or by means of special procedures such as calcography, photomechanics and lithography, for example. Besides, obviously the same letterpress.
Therefore considering the history of typography in this dual aspect of art and workshop it is possible to easily delineate its evolution over time. Thus, at least in Europe, the first typographic machine is to be attributed to the German Gutenberg. Obtained from the evolution of the winepress (torchio) from grapes subsequently perfected and used for over three centuries by the greatest master typographers, many of them Italian. Therefore typography remained unchanged substantially until the nineteenth century, that is when the idea of Gutenberg was modified in the materials passing to the brass screw of Danner of Nuremberg up to the cast iron press of the English Lord Stanhope (1798). The latter is also the author of a more effective pressure system, which becomes a source of inspiration for the American inventor colleague Clymer and for his Columbia Press.
These changes make typography, intended this time only as an art of printing, certainly more effective, but not efficient if we consider that the printing workshops still can not fully satisfy the demand for “printed paper” of the time. So for a slimmer printing process humanity had to wait a few years until the passage from the lever press (from Gutenberg) to the mechanical one of Koenig from Eisleben, more suitable for printing in a very short time a large number of copies of a given typographic work .
However, the first mechanical press machine, cluttered, is replaced almost immediately, in 1814, by the invention of Koenig (this time together with Bauer) of a model with coupled pressure cylinders. Then perfected up to the press with two revolutions and continuous rotation of the cylinder. Thanks to which Koenig and Bauer succeeded in founding the first printing machine factory in the Reichenau Abbey near Würzburg (Germany) in 1817. Followed in Italy in 1848 by the Uguet, Tarizzo, Bollito, Case Nebiolo and Saroglia for example. Some of them are still builders of excellent typography machines. Just think of Koenig and Bauer still among the best in the world.
In this period it is the newspapers, such as the Times of London, that provide the greatest impulse to typographic innovations with the first cylindrical steam flat press that allows you to print over 1000 copies per hour against the previous 300. Until the end of the first three decades of 1800, the exceptional number of 5,000 copies per hour, thanks to the introduction of the four-cylinder vertical printing press.
The real innovation, however, of almost comparable importance to that one had with Gutenberg, we have in these years with the Italian Auguste Hippolyte Marinoni and the invention of the four-color printing (four-color process or CMYK). Then with the rotary, typographic machine capable of printing thousands of copies per hour on a continuous strip of white paper. Innovation made possible to produce a printed image with all the desired hues and shades, superimposing the four colors cyan, magenta, yellow and black.
Following the introduction of the press, other mechanical composition experiments followed, leading to the creation between 1886 and 1889 of the Linotype by Ottmar Mergenthaler and the Monotype by Tolbert Lanston. These innovations remain unique until 1960 when the history of typography sees the birth of offset printing.
From the Greek typos (“imprint of a stroke” and, by extension, “character”) and graphein (“to write”), the word “typography” has a double meaning today.
It designates on the one hand a technique of composition of texts from moving characters and, by extension, a printing process using relief printing forms. On the other hand, it means the art of exploiting a printed communication space (on paper, on screen) for the diffusion of a message. Although the word is attested only sixty years after the printing of the Gutenberg Bible, the history of typography is inseparable from the history of printing techniques.
The first movable characters for printing appeared in the Far East between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries. It was around the fifteenth century that printing began in the West.
In the Renaissance, humanists contributed to the spread of typography. During the classical age, the characters multiplied throughout Europe and accompanied the birth of the press.
In the nineteenth century, industry and technical progress favored the development of printing and the development of the press and publishing. The great artistic movements of the twentieth century have influenced typographers. After 1945, the photocomposition opened new ways, than the computer science proposed a new approach on typography.
Origins in the orient
The first typographical tests date back to the eleventh century with Bi-Cheng (Alchemist smith) who created terracotta characters, which he collected and then glued in an iron frame. Then, it is the turn of Korea in the fourteenth century, with the adaptation of the techniques of the time in metal engraving, with the aim of making “types” in bronze. The Buddhist treatise of the Kyonghan monk (1377) is one of the earliest known works printed with these iron characters. The reform of the alphabet in 1434 and the creation of melted characters in lead sign the heyday of Korean typography, which will undergo little change until the nineteenth century.
The appearance of typography in the west
The first stage in the history of typography is commonly referred to the invention of movable type printing, attributed to the German Johann Gutenberg. Although other German, Italian and even Chinese printers were moving in that direction, it was Gutenberg who printed the first book with this technique, between 1448 and 1454. His technique consisted of aligning the types (small metal shapes in the form prismatic on which there is an embossed character, from which the term typography) into lines that, gradually, went to create the page with the text. In the space of a decade this technique spreads among the various European cities.
So, in the West, the appearance of typography is linked to several factors including the spread of paper, the use of the press to crush grapes and the invention of a less fluid ink. Let’s look at the history of typography, starting from Gutenberg. In the mid-fifteenth century, Gutenberg, prints his Bible b42 Mainz (“42” refers to the number of lines per page). The birth of typography took place in 1448 by the German Johann Gutenberg, in collaboration with Peter Schoffer: what led to the first true printing of books was the invention of movable type, that is the metal plates bearing the symbols of alphabet, which were aligned and soaked in ink, so as to allow the printing of the pages through the use of a press not similar to that used to press the grapes. In fact, despite the invention of the print being attributed to Gutenberg, other inventors were already at that time testing some methods to abandon the uncomfortable and long writing of the books. Every printer signs his works with a unique symbol. Nuremberg is not left out, at the center of this cultural bubbling, two famous typographers have made their home: Ulrich Zel and Gunther Zainer.
In Italy, the first printed book appears exactly in 1464: it was produced in the monastery of Subiaco. In the library of homeland history in Naples, one of these early books is still preserved today. The new technique spreads rapidly, entering into history and common use. Joining him, several hundred workshops are flourishing rapidly in Europe, especially in Venice where the first rules of the book will be codified (title, frontispiece, etc.). The birth of the printers category dates precisely to the year 1469 in the city of Venice: this contributed to make this city the most advanced in Europe in terms of printing, and the most productive in Italy in the first half of the sixteenth century.
Italy had never really been watching: home of European culture, it went very close to conquering the first pages for the press, but it was anticipated by a breath from Gutenberg. Venice soon became one of the capitals of the press, so much so that it was the first to introduce color printing. In Venice there is also the birth of pocket books and that of the characters slightly bent to the right, the so-called italics. The first typographic realizations try to imitate the written characters of the books made up to then by the scribes, at least until the 16th century where the printing industry will move away from the legacy of the past. If the print characters as we know them today are perfectly proportioned in form and geometry, the merit is attributable to the Ducal printing house of Parma that introduced a new system in conceiving the shape of the characters around the ‘700, thanks to the work of John Baskerville, Francois Didot and Giambattista Bodoni. Other revolutions took place in the nineteenth century, where the technological development of typography allowed to pass from the wooden press to a molded metal structure, which also introduces the stereotype.
Development in the history of typography
At the same time, Nicolas Jenson, after a stay in Mainz, went to Venice where he created the Lettara antiqua formata, in the “Roman” style right, in opposition to “italics”, invented by Alde Manuce for the sake of mimicry handwriting. From 1530 to 1540, Claude Garamond engraves the Garaldes, who will convert a large part of Europe to the Latin alphabet. During the 18th century, Pierre Simon Fournier invented the “point fournier”, a typographical measure that precedes the “didot point”, created by the dynasty of the same name. In England, William Caslon draws Roman characters (1734) which will be used after his death to print the American declaration of independence of 1776. In southern Europe, Italy, Gianbattista Bodoni proposes in his Manuale Tipografico characters with full and refined loaves. During the industrial era, demand is strong in the field of advertising. On this occasion, we see the creation of “antique” characters (inspired by the Greek alphabet), without serifs (example: Akzidenz, close ancestor of Helvetica). In parallel, the development of the press and publishing houses promotes the mechanization of the assembly of mobile characters (Monotype) and lines (Lynotype).
The history of typography from 1800 to the present day
From lithography to the industrial revolution the printing techniques remained unchanged for a long time, except for minor modifications made to the press invented by Johann Gutenberg. The next step took place only in 1800, thanks to the invention of Alois Senefelder’s lithograph in Paris: this proto-machine was able to print a continuous page, speeding up the printing operations a lot.
The novelty, however, lasted only a short time: they were the years of the industrial revolution, and the machines were beginning to develop in ways that were, to say the least, unexpected. So it was that the Germans Bauer and Konig had the intuition to apply the steam energy to the machines, creating a typographic machine capable of printing about 5,000 pages per hour. Thus, in 1814 the Germans Konig and Bauer invented the first flat-cylindrical steam press. Italy is still taking part in the story, allowing it to print in color with the cyan-magenta four-color press and print.
The history of typography expands with further innovations: lithography was introduced at the beginning of the century by Alois Senefelder, in Paris a continuous machine was built, which increased the production speed thanks to the possibility of printing a continuous sheet of paper. In the first half of the 20th century, artists reclaimed typography to reinterpret it through their lens. Cassandre, a Russian living in Paris, created Le Peignot (1937), which can be found on the Palais de Chaillot. In London, Stanlez Morison (1937) created for the Times a character adapted to the demands of the press (narrow, short legs, sufficiently thick unties) known today as the basic character on all computers. In the Bauhaus, Jan Tschichold published Die Neue Typographie in 1928, and theorized functionalism in typography. Herman Zapf conceived Palatino in 1948 and Optima in 1958. In 1957 Max Miedinger designed Helvetica, first called Neue Haas Grotesk. The same year Adrian Frutiger creates Univers. The 1970s saw the dynamism of American creation explode within the structure like ITC (International Typface Corporation) or the magazine U & Ic (Upper & lower case). Closer to home, the use of word processing software and the profusion of characters is changing the general public’s view of typography. Thanks to the Internet, the founders have an unprecedented forum. The circuits are shortened, direct relationships are created. But if there is one thing that governs typography since its creation, it is the dictatorship of harmony.
Typographic production will always undergo small changes until the introduction of offset printing in 1960 and the use of cellulose paper. The IT tools have started the so-called electronic publishing, the documents are automatically organized by the keyboard, through the arrival of personal computers. In 1990, small desktop printers arrived, with needle, laser and inkjet printing, first spread in offices and then in homes. The history of typography does not stop, by recently introducing specific languages for high quality printing of scientific texts.
It is said that the Internet was the greatest invention after the press, and in fact both have more than one aspect in common, especially as regards the transmission of knowledge and the revolution in the cultural sphere of mankind. In fact, digital has changed our lives: today everything is done on the Internet, from shopping to finding information. Even the press has moved on the web that makes it possible to request online printing of any product or document, from those for advertising to those for the office, and following a few simple steps.
The last chapter in the history of typography of this fascinating story has seen in the invention of the Internet a fundamental support, both as regards the online typography, both for what today are able to make the printers, connecting to the network and allowing us any operation by smartphone. Only the future can tell us what other news will bring this sector.