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Ingenious Impressions at Glasgow Hunterian Art Gallery

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Glasgow Hunterian Museum is currently hosting an exhibition on pre-1500 printed books, known as incunabula. In my previous academic incarnation, I used to work on the transition from manuscripts to printed books, so I was obviously thrilled to see this exhibition open in a local museum.  On Thursday I was lucky enough to catch a preview before going to a workshop the very next day. It is fair to say that the workshop turned out to be some of the best and most memorable hours of my life. I cannot thank Martin Andrews and Alan May enough for their generous sharing of all their knowledge and expertise.

Not only did I get to have a go at printing a page from the famous 42-line Gutenberg Bible, but I used a replica 15th C printing press built by Alan May for BBC’s Stephen Fry & The Gutenberg Press programme (I recommend this programme – it was very well researched). May used several near-contemporary etchings and woodblock prints to reconstruct the press as no printing presses from the time has survived. I was very interested in an Albrecht Dürer etching showing a modified two-pull press which Alan May described as fundamentally flawed, yet utterly precise. Dürer is a fascinating figure, anyway, and I like the idea of him having fingers in a lot of pies!

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Another highlight was getting to cast my own type(!) under careful supervision. May & Andrews went through the entire process of carving out a prototype (the very name!), showing us how to develop a matrix from a prototype, before starting to cast types. It was absolutely fantastic.

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And dare I whisper that my next big collection actually has something to do with knowledge-making in Early Modern Europe? Much more on that when the time comes, but it’s a huge thrill that this exhibition has opened up in Glasgow just as the next stage of research begins.

Ingenious Impressions at  Glasgow Hunterian Art Gallery runs from February 27 until June 21, 2015. Free Admission.

For the Love of Old Books

I like many things, but there are not many things that I love. I definitely love incunabula (books printed between 1455 and 1500) and early modern period printed books. Yesterday I went to Edinburgh to look at some very old printed books from Scotland. I was not disappointed.

I have long been interested in and worked on the shift from (handwritten) manuscripts to the (printed) books. The shift is not as abrupt and clear as many people assume; post-Gutenberg handwritten manuscripts were still produced and printers arguably sought to make their product look as much like handwritten manuscripts as possible. Although The Scottish National Library do not hold any incunabula (as far as I know), I was pleased to see some early 16th century books which still displayed evidence of this urge to mimic handwritten manuscripts: typefaces designed to resemble handwriting, woodcuts trying to look like hand-drawn illustrations and rubrication (emphasising parts of the text using red ink). Gorgeous, fascinating stuff.

And Edinburgh was her usual, gloomy, beautiful, fantastical self.

I like visiting the city but I couldn’t live there, I think.