F&M College Library

History of the Book - Hand Press Period, 1450-1800

This guide is designed to provide a broad overview of printing technologies during the hand press period, and assist with the ENG 206 "Material Texts" assignment in particular.

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Gutenberg Press or Wooden Press - Later called a Common Press

Printing: Letterpress printing occurred on wooden or "common" presses throughout the hand press period.  Letterpress is a relief printing process, and involves taking an impression from raised types or blocks.  The earliest printing presses were platen presses, and remained largely unchanged for 350 years.  Typically, two men worked the press, taking turns inking the forme and pulling the bar.  Working in pairs, pressmen could produce around 240 impressions per hour, or four impressions per minute.  Over the course of a 10 hour work day, a press could routinely produce 2,400 impressions, or 1,200 two-sided sheets.