The Evolution of the Publication of Literature

by Nord_94 on October 20, 2016 - 6:44am

Empirical Observations

The 1792 book, The Anatomy of the Human Body by W. Cheselden has been kept in the Osler Library since 1945. This book was was published by Greene and Co. of 16 Clare Street, Dublin, Ireland. Since then the condition of the book has changed considerably in the last 224 years. The cover of the book has certainly seen better days. The original leather cover has been heavily worn down and is no longer covering the corners of the book. The book has a musty stench, probably due to the aging of all the materials used to make it. The binding of the book has also been ripped in several places so one must be very careful when handling the book. Inside the book however, the pages were in slightly better condition even though page 258 was missing. Almost of all the written words were easily legible and the illustrations were still in excellent condition. Some pages seemed to have suffered from slight water damage and some corners were folded, but other than that the pages appear to have been well preserved for a 224 year old book.


From this book, we can bear witness to how the style and production of books have evolved since the creation of the printing press. with the creation of Gutenberg's printing press in the 1440-1450s, the printing and publishing of books was revolutionized. Scribes no longer had to dedicate their whole lives copying manuscripts word by word. The Anatomy of the Human Body by W. Cheselden was no exception. What is extremely fascinating about this book however, is the means by which it was created. In the present day, books are generally mass produced by editing and printing companies. They are created primarily by machines that cut the paper, print the pages and assemble them into a book, using standard inks and binding materials. This allows companies to create thousands of books in a short time. Books printed in the 18th century, like that of W. Cheselden, underwent a far more rigorous task. Many people with different skills were needed to create this book. One of the tasks to create a book was to get the writing materials, and what is unique about this book is the fact that cloth was used rather then paper. One usually had to cut a large piece of cloth into four pages of equal size. This was meticulous work because they did not have the precise machinery we have today. Each cut was done by hand and had to be perfect or else the cloth could not be used in the book. Once the cloth was formatted, one had to write the words. They also used illustration to bring visual aid to the book. Rather than hiring a painter to do it by hand or use a wooden carving to illustrate the page, they used a metal engraving. One had to hire an artist to make a sketch of the illustration. Once done, the sketch had to be given to a metal worker to be engraved on a metal sheet. The metal sheet to press would then be used to the ink into the page. This made “repeatable visual aids feasible for the first time … Problems of wear and tear could be circumvented” (Eisenstein 26). This allowed pictures to be used far more frequently “by making it possible to dispense with the use of images for mnemonic purposes, printing reinforced iconoclastic tendencies already present among many Christians” (Eisenstein 39). They also had a special system on how to write since they had to give the pages to a specialist to sew together to bind the book. Rather then making the sewer read every single page, they used a special code to organize all the pages. On the very bottom of the page they would write a letter and number to track the pages. The sower would then be able to correctly organize the papers by dividing the pages by their letter. They put numbers besides the letter to mark which page came before the others of the same section. They also used the last line of the text to help organize the book. They would write the last word of the page on the bottom right of the page and the use the same word as the start of the next page. This was done to make sure that the pages were not out of order.

In conclusion, this book is a testament to how the creation of books has changed since the days of being handwritten and also to how much present day printing has achieved since then. If we think of Kindle, e-books and virtual libraries the pace of innovation in publishing is velar. The method of the production of knowledge has evolved, and will continue to do so for centuries to come.

Work Cited

Elizabeth Eisenstein, “Defining the Initial Shift,” The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe, 2nd Edition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005): 13-45