The Pleasures of the Printing Press
by space_unicorn on October 26, 2016 - 4:22pm
In a recent trip to the Osler Library, the opportunity to work with a rare medical book from 1684 was presented.
Theoph Bonet’s A Guide to the Practical Physician has a slightly carved binding that includes the date of publication, the author’s name and a shortened version of the title. Although the cover is blank, it shows that the book was tremendously used and began falling apart. In fact, the cover was removed completely from the binding. The strong odour of herbal medicine suggests that it is indeed a medical book and was stored near herbs that the book called for to treat various conditions.
On the inside, there were indications that this book was damaged by water and the papers were a ruffled, but there were no signs of any additional writings. The medical content was organized through a “Table of Heads” that would alphabetically arrange any medical conditions from bruising to miscarriage and reference a page number. At the top of each page is a heading that would let the reader know what condition they are reading about.
During the early modern period, the competition between printers and scribes pushed the printers to use “running heads...footnotes...tables of contents[...]” (Eisenstein, 24) to convince readers to buy their product. It shows that competition encouraged the production of better books, which would persuade people to purchase them. This is why “title pages became increasingly common [...] acting as advertisements” (24). These features are still used to this day to organize and facilitate the navigation inside a book. Printers also promoted books through “handbills, circulars, and sales catalogues” (29) and then eventually they would “drive to tap markets [...] with efforts to hold competitors at bay by offering better products” (29). The introduction of advertisements and eliminating competitors shows early signs of present capitalism ideals and marketing strategies.
However, early modern books were slowly printed using “movable metal type, oil-based ink, wooden handpress, and so forth” (14) which are methods that are now outdated and replaced by computers and industrial printers that use toner. To compare, a skilled worker could put together 2 000 characters in an hour when a current computer could do the same in 2 seconds (University of Texas). Moreover, because religion was such an important aspect of early modern people, it was suggested that the printing press could be a “supernatural intervention”(22) unlike the current belief in technology as a science.
A Guide to the Practical Physician is a text filled with medical knowledge, but no illustration that could help in identifying or locating important organs. Bonet’s book is quite large in size and this suggests that readers of this book would need sufficient time to read it, sufficient space to store it, a basic understanding of medicine, and to be literate. It is believed that the past owners could be surgeons, pharmacists, or people of higher rank who had an interest in medicine. Hints on the pages of the book show that there was a complex printing process: the last words on a page needs to be the same word on at the beginning of the next page to allow printers to make sure that the order of the book is right. It is estimated by the head librarian at the Osler Library that there could have been hundreds of prints of this particular edition of Bonet’s book. This means that the books “could be viewed simultaneously by scattered readers” (24), which would influence readers in various places and these readers would share the same ideas as the author and then spread this knowledge wherever they are. Because the process of creating copies of books is demanding, different roles were created. Mechanics who worked closely with the printing process also had to collaborate with editors and correctors who were highly educated professors or former clergymen (27). This creates more acceptance between the ranks of workers and academics. There were also collaborations between “astronomers and engravers [...] physicians and painters” (27). Working together allowed the minimization of intellectual boundaries and for everyone to exchange knowledge.
University of Texas. Printing Yesterday and Today. http://www.hrc.utexas.edu/educator/modules/gutenberg/books/printing/. Accessed 25 Oct. 2016.