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    Links Books R Cool

    The History of Books

    The oral account (word of mouth, tradition, hearsay) is the oldest carrier of messages and stories. When writing systems were invented in ancient civilizations, clay tablets or parchment scrolls were used as, for example, in the library of Alexandria.

    Scrolls were later phased out in favor of the codex, a bound book with pages and a spine, the form of most books today. The codex was invented in the first few centuries A.D. or earlier. Some have said that Julius Caesar invented the first codex during the Gallic Wars. He would issue scrolls folded up accordion style and use the "pages" as reference points.

    Before the invention and adoption of the printing press, almost all books were copied by hand, which made books comparatively expensive and rare. During the early Middle Ages, when only churches, universities, and rich noblemen could typically afford books, they were often chained to a bookshelf or a desk to prevent theft. The first books used parchment or vellum (calf skin) for the pages, which was later replaced with paper.

    In the mid 15th century books began to be produced by block printing in western Europe (the technique had been known in the East centuries earlier). In block printing, a relief image of an entire page was carved out of wood. It could then be inked and used to reproduce many copies of that page. Creating an entire book, however, was a painstaking process, requiring a hand-carved block for each page. Also, the wood blocks were not terribly durable and could easily wear out or crack. The oldest dated book printed by this method is The Diamond Sutra.

    There is a wood block printed copy in the British Library which, although not the earliest example of block printing, is the earliest example which bears an actual date. It was found in 1907 by the archaeologist Sir Marc Aurel Stein in a walled-up cave near Dunhuang, in northwest China. The colophon, at the inner end, reads: Reverently [caused to be] made for universal free distribution by Wang Jie on behalf of his two parents on the 13th of the 4th moon of the 9th year of Xiantong [i.e. 11th May, CE 868 ].

    The Chinese inventor Pi Sheng made moveable type of earthenware circa 1045, but we have no surviving examples of his printing. He embedded the characters, face up, in a shallow tray lined with warm wax. He laid a board across them and pressed it down until all the characters were at exactly the same level. When the wax cooled he used his letter tray to print whole pages.

    It was not until Johann Gutenberg popularized the printing press with metal moveable type in the 15th century that books started to be affordable and widely available. This upset the status quo, leading to remarks such as "The printing press will allow books to get into the hands of people who have no business reading books" . It is estimated that in Europe about 1,000 various books were created per year before the invention of the printing press.

    With the rise of printing in the fifteenth century, books were published in limited numbers and were quite valuable. The need to protect these precious commodities was evident. One of the earliest references to the use of bookmarks was in 1584 when the Queen's Printer, Christopher Barker, presented Queen Elizabeth I with a fringed silk bookmark. Common bookmarks in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were narrow silk ribbons bound into the book at the top of the spine and extended below the lower edge of the page. The first detachable bookmarks began appearing in the 1850's and were made from silk or embroidered fabrics. Not until the 1880's, did paper and other materials become more common.

    The following centuries were spent on improving both the printing press and the conditions for freedom of the press through the gradual relaxation of restrictive censorship laws. See also intellectual property, public domain, copyright. In mid-20th century, Europe book production has risen to over 200,000 titles per year.