Movable Type Exhibition 2015

Movable Type

The North Otago Museum has a small collection of printers and printing-related objects from the era of movable type. These range from the large and heavy cast iron Albion Press invented in 1820 right through to early typewriters like the Remington 12 invented a century later in 1922.

A quick history of printing

In Germany in 1439 Johannes Gutenberg invented the first hand-operated wooden printing press. Almost thirty years later William Caxton introduced the printing press to England.

It took another 400 years before printing took its next step with the invention of the quicker and stronger cast iron press. From that point developments in printing technology happened quickly with the development of the semi-automated platen press and the cylinder and rotary presses.

In the late 1800s the offset printing process was developed and by the 1950s it had become the main method for printing large volumes of printed material. Older printing presses which still used moveable type continued to be used but for small volume print jobs called ‘jobbing’ or for proofing work. Today these older printing presses are sought after by artisans and artists for the creation of original and limited edition works.

What is movable type and how does it work?

Movable type printing requires the selection of individual blocks of type (in wood or metal) to make up a word or words. These are then arranged on the printing plate in the right order, inked up using a roller and passed through the press. The press pushes the inky plate against the paper creating an impression. The first type blocks were made of wood. Later type was made of metal.

FAST FACT:  The saying mind your ps and qs may come from the movable type era – as the letter p and the letter q were easy to confuse.

Morgan Bennet