More than 130 million books exist right now as we speak.
Everywhere you go, you will see people holding, reading, or buying a book. We have libraries filled to the brim with all sorts of written works. We use them at work, school, and for our entertainment.
Our relationship with books has existed since the dawn of human civilization, but books back then looked nothing like the ones we have now.
The question for today’s post is how books were made in the past?
Books have evolved through the years, starting out as etches on a slab of stone, to stacks of papers sandwiched between a hard cover. The history of books is an interesting journey and is a reflection of man’s ability to innovate on something as simple as a written medium.
Where Was The First Book Invented?
Books did not look like the ones people have today. Back then, writing was done on rock slabs and tree barks.
It wasn’t until 3000 BCE later when the ancient Egyptians started using papyrus scrolls to inscribe words on.
The Egyptians wove the stems of papyrus plants then flattened them to turn them into pages. The pages are then glued together to create a long sheet of paper called a scroll.
This practice got so popular that it was adopted by the Greeks and Romans. Writing on papyrus scrolls and rolling them around a cylindrical piece of wood became the standard practice until the 8th century AD.
While not exactly a book, in 200 BC, the Greeks and Romans invented the wax tablet, which is two blocks of wood coated in wax. A person can write with the use of a stylus and can later erase his text for reuse. You can technically call this the world’s first notebook.
Later on, people started using parchment, which became popular during the 600 AD, when people made colorful illustrations on them. These literature works were dubbed “illuminated manuscripts.”
These illustrated books became popular across Europe and some Muslim countries, and they’re often used for religious works. Parchment had completely replaced papyrus because of its durability and quality.
The first actual book that was written and printed was in China, during the Tang Dynasty, 868 AD. The book was called The Diamond Sutra, which was a book about Buddhism. Unlike the Europeans, the Chinese did not handwrite their book and instead used a method called block printing.
To end this section, paper was later introduced to the Europeans by the Muslims, who learned this technique from the Chinese. Europeans started using paper for their books as it was cheaper compared to parchment. Paper had become the norm for printing throughout Europe.
What Were The First Books Made Of?
Ancient ancestors used whatever object they have within their surroundings to write on.
The cavemen used stones, barks, and cave walls.
The Egyptians pioneered the use of paper by producing scrolls made out of the papyrus plant.
Later on, the Greeks and Romans introduced parchment paper, which was derived from animals.
On the other side of the globe, the Chinese made paper with a combination of plants and fibers that were easily available in their surroundings. They later spread the practice to Muslims, and the Muslims spread the practice to Europeans.
Paper has remained the popular choice for printers, authors, and readers alike because it is cheap, fairly durable, and lightweight.
How Were Books Written in the Olden Times?
Every book, before the birth of moveable type, was all handwritten. Ancient writers used to painstakingly inscribe every word onto the paper.
Unlike today where books are mass-produced, books before were limited. Obviously, a person cannot sit down and write the same words a thousand times on a thousand papers.
Books during this time existed as the only copy. Reproductions of a book can be done but it must be requested.
But what makes the ancient art of writing unique was that illustrations were also handmade. The intricate artworks that you see in codices are all done by hand by amazing artists.
Aesthetically speaking, ancient books, especially the illuminated manuscripts, are gorgeous to look at. However, they take up a lot of time to write, tedious to reproduce, and can be very costly.
How Were Books Turned from Handwritten to Printed?
Everything changed for the Europeans for good during 1440, when a German named Johannes Gutenberg introduced the West to the printing press. There was a revolution in how books were made and this marks the beginning of the industrial age for literature.
Gutenberg did not invent the idea of printing, but he did refine the machinery and process to make things easier to use and easier for the pocket. His invention was a success, introducing Europe to a faster way to not only print books but to reproduce them.
Gutenberg based his design on existing screw presses. His invention was powerful enough that the first thing he ever printed was a Bible, now dubbed as the Guttenburg’s Bible.
Printing books spread throughout the continent, and later across the globe. Years went by, and improvements to Gutenberg’s machine were added.
Books were no longer just documents made by officials or religious doctrines that only the church can make. Book printing slowly became accessible to the general public, and people used them to print a plethora of different things like cookbooks, fiction novels, and propaganda.
How Books Were Made in the Past Vs Today
Today, printing presses are thrice the size of the original Gutenberg printing press. Books are also now made digitally, as compared to before where everything was handwritten.
Making books during ancient times was a long task compared to now. Before not everyone has the chance to be able to write a book whenever they want, and oftentimes, writing was only meant for the elites like scholars, leaders, and priests.
Today, anyone can be a writer and start writing their own book. In fact, you don’t even have to go to a printing press anymore because you can just upload your work online as an e-book.
Looking back, it’s truly incredible how men started off communicating with just drawings on the wall. Now, buying a book is just as easy as going to the store and picking out what you want.
The process of making books in the past is a real-life testament to the dedication humans have to continuously improve on a product. It really shows that mankind never settles for less.