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10% of world adults in 1800 were able to read. However the 18th century saw the production of some 10 million books every year in Europe which heralded a dramatic rise in reading and writing. Cheap books led to 2/3 of European men and 1/2 of women being able to read by the end of 18th C. This process has continued to develop and spread so that by 2016 86% of the world population are now literate.


Since it first appeared in its current form in about 300 AD the book has undergone a constant state of evolution. This has relied on the development of writing, the formulation of ink and the creation of paper. The invention of movable type followed by the slow development of typesetting machines during the industrial revolution. Meanwhile illustrations, initially woodcuts, progressed through etching and engraving before becoming more easily integrated with type when lithography was invented in the late 1800’s. A little later photography was introduced before colour printing became more widespread throughout the 20th century. Since the 1980‘s digital techniques have simplified the creation and production processes and the book has continued to evolve.

For more information see Keith Houston “The Book”  ISBN 978-0-393-24479-3


Tablets of fired clay were replaced by rolled up scrolls made from papyrus, Methods of folding lead the Romans to the development of more convenient codex which became common in the first century BC. As parchment replaced papyrus binding and sewing were developed to create a book with separate leaves. Eventually hand made paper became the common writing material. In the 1450‘s printers began to take over from scribes making the book easier to produce. Increased mechanisation followed as new techniques of setting type and printing were developed. Cheaper continuous paper making in the early 1800’s lead to faster production making books mass consumer items. The rate of development has not ceased with the advent of photography then colour printing and more recently the introduction of digital typography and page layout, combined with mechanical  printing and binding  technology which are used to make the modern book.


The drawing is of Keith Houston’s ‘The Book’ which is a joy to handle and read. It feels solid, yet it opens easily and stays flat  no matter which page is selected. It was produced in a unique factory in China that can make sewn books more economically than in the west. Pages are printed on a continuous roll of paper which is then cut to form  eight folios of eight leaves of 16 pages. These are sewn together  using a ‘double cord method’. End papers are glued onto the text block and decorative end bands are glued to the top and bottom of the spine. 

Separate from the printing the cover is made from paper glued over heavy card. The title is ‘Hot Foil Blocked‘  using a shaped heated brass former which presses a plastic foil onto the leaves. finally the book is ‘cased in‘. Glue  is rolled onto the outer leaves of the text block and the end papers which are then spread open and pressed onto the inner surfaces of front and back covers to complete the book.

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