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What went into making books?

Where do books come from, other than the knowledge, experience, and imagination of the authors...

The 1st recognizable binding of pages into book format was what historians call a codex, which likely came from the Romans; probably around the time of Julius Ceasar. A codex refers to a collection of sheets held together at one side and usually sandwiched between a thicker material for protection. This definition would include all modern printed books, even paperbacks like The Wish Thieves, that we see today, but most scholars now use the term codex to describe ancient handwritten books. Manuscript vs print, plus age seems to be the defining difference between the term codex and book(2).

Codices (the plural of codex) developed back in the 1st century and were likely inspired from the existing idea of Diptychs. Diptychs were two rigid surfaces, usually wood, joined together and which had a layer of wax on the inside where writing could be scratched (1). Later the notes in wax could be left protected by the rigid exterior, erased or transferred onto a scroll.

A Codex used the same proactive rigid material, but added more space for note and had other many benefits over the scroll. This included being able to easily use both side of the parchment or papyrus which was not commonly done on scrolls. Turning pages was more efficient than unrolling a scroll when looking for information, and provided less wear on the sheet material. The bending and flattening of the scrolls would eventually weaken them. (1)

With all these benefits the Codex was well on it’s way to becoming the popular book we now know, but since the common definition says codices contain handwritten words, to get to today’s book we need printing.

The idea of printing may have come from the rubbing of Confucianism texts carved into stone in China in 175AD. Monks would use charcoal rubbed on paper (also believed to be a Chinese creation) to take a copy of the carved texts rather than having to write them out. Carving the words to protrude rather than be in relief would be a 1st step, followed by carving the mirror image of the words and inking directly on the carving so as to get nice dark words on white background; a much more pleasing form than the relief rubbing’s white text on black. (3)

Although printing is seen for some art as early as the 3rd century, text and books being printed took until about the 8th century. This format originated in China and Korea with Buddhists. The oldest existing printed text being the Diamond Sutra. (4)

Woodblock printing isn’t seen in Europe until the 15th century, but this is where our modern book form is finally realized. As paper manufacturing finally reached a process that was sustainable and reliable in Europe, Johannes Gutenberg flung printed books forward with the invention of his mechanical moveable type. By making batches of small moveable letters it was now affordable and efficient to produce a variety of printed books. This may be the invention that has been the most influential in the dissemination of knowledge, ideas, and the advancement of technology and science. His invention was noticed by the masses when he used it to produce copies of the bible. The latin language 1st printing on paper consisted 135 copies with an additional 45 on vellum. 49 of the prints survive today, 21 of which are complete.(5) You can see one of the prints (behind glass of course) at locations all around the world. Germany (of course), France, Japan, Russia, U.K., U.S., and more.

Why was this book so important? Bibles being in great demand and very time consuming to produce by hand brought an attention to the invention and showed that it would be a economic gold mine (not for poor Gutenberg though, he lost all his money in legal battles with a partner). All the Gutenberg bibles were sold before the printing was even finished, and by the end of the century over 1/2 million books would be printed. More books meant more printers… then more literacy, more customers so... cheaper books... better education, more shared knowledge which led to more efficiency in everything as ideas were shared and built upon. Then there were books for entertainment and books as art. In 1517 books were used for political reformation, and changes to society that would lead to greater freedoms and the separation of church and state. All of this and you can see why printed books is considered to be a large contributor to the start of the Renaissance. (6)

Books…it’s hard to imagine where we would be now without printed books. Imagining is one of my two favorite book related activities though, the other of course is learning.

See where you can see the Gutenberg Bible Here:

Read Books about Printings History:

Curiosities or Things I wondered while writing this:

What is the Diamond Sutra About?

What was the most common use of the Diptychs?

Was Gutenberg aware of the Chinese moveable text?

What was Gutenberg’s legal battle about?

What did you wonder while reading this?

If you have answers (or other questions) please comment on the Facebook Page.


1.Peterson, V. (n.d.). What's a Codex? Learn About the Earliest Form of a Bound Book. Retrieved August 09, 2017, from

2.Transitional Phases in the Form and Function of the Book before Gutenberg. (n.d.). Retrieved August 09, 2017, from

3.HISTORY OF PRINTING. (n.d.). Retrieved August 09, 2017, from

4.(n.d.). Retrieved August 09, 2017, from

5.[Author removed at request of original publisher]. (2016, March 22). Understanding Media and Culture: An Introduction to Mass Communication. Retrieved August 09, 2017, from

6.Whipps, H. (2008, May 26). How Gutenberg Changed the World. Retrieved August 09, 2017, from

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