Vizsoly Bible


The printing press – the black art

The invention of the printing press had been preceded by many centuries of development in writing techniques. The predecessor of the printed book is generally considered to be the medieval codex, a manuscript which was made by binding individual written texts into a single block and inserting the stack into a protective cover coated with leather or parchment. However, the transcription of texts by hand was a time consuming and laborious process which was soon unable to meet the growing demand for knowledge which had emerged with the development of Humanism, the Renaissance and the spread of education. The invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in the second half of the 15th century had a revolutionary impact on the on the simplification and spread of reproductions of the written word. The technique of letterpress printing was created by adapting existing techniques of printing images using stamps with the crucial invention of metal moveable type, a development which significantly accelerated the duplication of templates and the reusability of materials. This procedure was widely adopted and would remain unchanged for several centuries.

The letterpress printing process itself consisted of a procedure by which the letter carver created a matrix of an inverted (or negative) form of the letter according to a sketched template. The carver then pressed the matrix onto a hand mould which was used to cast metal pieces of moveable type, produced in earlier times from an alloy of lead and antimony. The text of a book was composed manually by placing movable type letters into lines and groups of lines, with so-called reglets or fillings, into metal frames. After the page had been set, ink was applied evenly to the template using pads known as ink balls. Handmade sheets of paper were then placed on top of the template and pressed with a press. The printed paper was left to dry, and the process was then repeated on the other side of the page. Black ink was used for printing, and this led to the printing press acquiring the name of “the black art”. Occasionally, small amounts of red ink were also used in the printing process, but this required the printing of the page to be repeated. This form of printing, which was called combined printing, was a more complicated procedure and was therefore used more rarely. In order to add illustrations to the text, printers used the process of intaglio printing, in which the templates were first carved into wood or later into copper, creating woodcuts and copper plates, with etched metal plates providing the most accurate impression. The printing procedure was improved and simplified over time by adding more printing pages onto a single large sheet of paper – quarto pages. Quarto pages were bound together after folding by sewing them into a book block. Finally, the printed pages were secured by fastening them into book covers made of leather or parchment and supplemented with protective or decorative elements, such as hanging chains, corners, bosses, clasps or cords.

Originally, the printer carried out all of the printing and binding processes by himself, but the increasing demand for the simpler and faster production of books led to the emergence of other distinct professions, such as typesetter, bookbinder or casemaker. Some professions such as those of woodprint engraver, illustrator, type founder, illuminator or bookseller, became entirely independent of the printing house itself. Only the largest printing houses could ensure the complete production of entire books on their own. The final appearance of the binding depended on the requirements of the customer, and for this reason we can find many different types of bindings in historical collections – paper, leather, parchment bindings in wooden or cardboard covers, or different combinations of materials.

The emergence of the printing press was closely connected to the development of paper production. Parchment, the material which had been used as a medium for writing until the invention of the printing press, could not be produced in sufficient quantities to meet the demand of printing houses. The main stages of paper production in this period were sorting, cleaning and rag-cutting. The most laborious part of the production was the fermentation and mechanical beating of the rags into pulp with wooden hammers, a process which was aided in this region by waterpower. The invention of the Hollander beater at the end of the 17th century and its widespread adoption in the 18th century greatly increased the speed at which pulp could be produced.

Paper making in and around Košice

There is a rich history of handmade paper production in the eastern counties of the Kingdom of Hungary, with 55 paper manufacturers active in the region, more than half of which were located in the territory of modern-day Slovakia. However, only three paper mills are known to have been active in the Abuáj region. The first known paper mill in Košice was established by the painter Johann Spillenberger, who reconstructed the water-powered hammer mill in Čermeľská valley into a handmade paper mill by 1640. From the beginning, however, Spillenberger’s production faced strong competition from higher quality paper imported from Austrian paper mills in particular. By the 18th century, the paper mill had three water wheels, beater mills with 35 hammers, a machine press for paper pressing and a pumping tank. The mill was renovated in 1790 and remained in operation until the end of the 19th century. The other two paper mills, located in Drienovec (in operation from around 1759 to the first half of the 19th century) and in Svinica (from 1792 to the second half of the 19th century) were smaller-scale operations with a somewhat local character.