Explosion of Printed Books Outpaced Internet Age

Article excerpt

With new technology, books multiply. Dont assume that pertains only to todays digital forest of information, however.

Before computers and machines that spit out a book on demand or allowed millions of authors to self-publish their memoirs, European printers working with ink and movable type fathered a revolution.

The explosion of information in every subject happened faster in the 15th century than the development of the Internet in the 20th, notes a new traveling exhibit.

What a heady time, says John Hoover, executive director of the St. Louis Mercantile Library and curator for The Art of the Printed Book Through the Centuries.

I like for students to look at this and get excited about it: They are looking at an Internet that was pre-Internet, he says, standing at the library near what were once technological wonders: lumbering presses bereft of even basic buttons, cords or screens.

Enclosed in several glass cases are books and printed pages, many of which have survived centuries and look as sharp as a text message on an iPhone 5.

Hoover surveyed thousands of examples of printing through the ages, winnowing them down to about 50 pieces of fine work. Included in the Mercantile exhibit:

Leaves from The Nuremberg Chronicle (1493), described as possibly the most elaborate illustrated book of the 15th century.

A well-loved and read Bible from 1527, Biblia Sancta Latina, with owners notes in the margins.

A 1483 example of early printed English, a leaf from William Caxtons The Golden Legend, a stories about saints.

At least two massive facsimiles (modern copies) show what some famous historical works look like.

One is of Johannus Gutenbergs masterpiece, the Bible he produced from 1454-56 (only five complete Gutenberg Bibles are said to be in the United States). A single page of an original Gutenberg could be valued at a quarter-of-a-million dollars, Hoover estimated. Some historic books, he says, are priceless in their intrinsic value.

Another facsimile is of William Morris 1896 masterpiece, The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, which included woodcut designs by Pre- Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones.

Many of the books show illustrations made from intaglio or relief printing. Intaglio involves an image incised in a plate, such as copper. Relief images, such as woodcuts, are made when extra material is cut away, leaving the image carved on the surface.

The Mercantile books are rarely on display, Hoover says. The exhibit, co-sponsored by the Missouri Center for the Book, also received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Hoover, who is vice president for the center, will be joined in a week by two other rare book librarians for a brunch and lecture about books in St. …