Blockprinting on paper started in China in the 7th c., but no examples survive. The oldest surviving printing was found in 1966 in a stupa in the Buddhist temple Pulguk-sa, Kyongju, Korea. It is a small dharani scroll printed 704-751. Until then the dharani scrolls contained in small wooden pagodas printed in Japan 764-770 were considered the oldest printing in the world. 14 examples (81 volumes) of blockprinting and movable type printing from the period 770 to 1442 are selected here, from a collection of 152 items.
These precious prints represents 680 years of printing history until Gutenberg re-invented movable type printing in Europe around 1450.
All this refers to printing on paper using ink, or without ink on soft paper (blind printing), applying blocks or movable types of wood, stone or metals.
It should be noted that about 3000 years earlier, royal inscriptions were printed in blind on clay bricks, using blocks of wood, clay or marble. The bricks were printed in thousands of copies for use in palace or temple buildings in Sumer and Babylonia. If the definition of blind printing also includes soft materials as wet clay or gold in addition to dry or wet (soft) paper, these royal texts will be the world's earliest printing. 5 examples are listed here, as well as an European example.
21.1. Blockprinting in blind on clay and gold
- MS 5106 Sumer, 2291-2254 BC
- MS 1937 Sumer, 2114-2122 BC
- MS 2764 Sumer, 2047-2038 BC
- MS 1878 Sumer, 2047-2038 BC
- See also MS 1876/1, Babylonia, 1792-1750 BC
- MS 1815/1 Babylonia, 604-562 BC
- MS 5236 Greece or Turkey, 6th c. BC
21.2. Blockprinting on paper
- MS 2489 Japan, 764-770
- MS 2536/2 Korea, 1011-1082
- MS 2540 China, 1095
- MS 2548 China, 1148-1173
- MS 2458 China, 1304-1334
- MS 2664 China, 1264-1367
- MS 2547 China, 1307-1367
- MS 2663 China, 1341
- MS 2494 Japan, 1383
- MS 2093 China, ca. 1400
- MS 2542 China, 1420
- MS 2562 China, 1442
21.3. Movable type printing
- MS 2923 Korea, 1438
ROYAL INSCRIPTION OF NARAM-SÎN: NARAM-SÎN WHO BUILT THE TEMPLE OF INANNA
MS in Sumerian on clay, Akkad, Sumer, 2291-2254 BC, 1 brick printing block, 13x13x10 cm, 3 lines in a large formal cuneiform script, large loop handle.
Context: There are only 2 more brick printing blocks of Naram-Sîn known, one intact with a cylindrical handle, and a tiny fragment in British Museum.
Commentary: Naram-Sîn was the first king to use blocks for printing bricks. Prior to him the inscriptions on the bricks were written by hand. These 3 brick stamps with the known bricks, is the earliest evidence of printing, in this case blindprinting on soft clay.
TO NINGIRSU, MIGHTY WARRIOR OF ENLIL, GUDEA RULER OF LAGASH MADE IT SPLENDID FOR HIM AND BUILT FOR HIM THE TEMPLE OF THE SHINING IMDUGUD BIRD AND RESTORED IT
Blockprint in blind in Sumerian on clay, Lagash, Sumer, 2141-2122 BC, 1 brick, 32x32x7 cm, 6+4 columns, in cuneiform script.
Context: Foundation inscriptions of Gudea in The Schøyen collection are MSS 1877, 1895, 1936, 1937 and 2890. Building cones, see MSS 1791/1-2.
Commentary: Gudea built or rather rebuilt, at least 15 temples in the city-state of Lagash. The present brick has deposits of the bitumen that originally bound the bricks together in the wall of the temple.
AMAR-SIN OF NIPPUR, CHOSEN BY ENLIL, MIGHTY HERO, THE TEMPLE OF ENLIL, BRICK STAMP INSCRIPTION
MS in Neo Sumerian on white marble, Sumer, 2046-2038 BC, 1 brick printing block, 18,5x10,0x3,5 cm, single column, 7 lines in cuneiform script, with a handle on the back.
Context: Bricks of King Amar-Sin with full texts are MSS 1878 and 1914.
Commentary: Brick printing blocks are so rare as objects that there is a theory that they were broken when a production run was finished. Those that are known are almost never intact. There are some broken ones from the Old Akkadian Period, including the intact MS 5106, but made of terracotta. Until this one there were no examples of an UR III brick printing block known at all, and the material of their construction was a complete mystery.
The inscription is a well known one, but the last 3 lines have not been cut, apart from the first sign in line 7. This printing block was never used, but discarded by the scribe due to a slight chipping to the inscription. Since the natural medium for writing at this time, was clay, the process of impressing a block into wet soft clay can be seen as the first known example of true printing. Some of the printing blocks even had "movable type" so that the inscription relating to more than one building could be accommodated with a minimum of effort.
Exhibited: TEFAF Maastricht International Fine Art and Antiques Fair, 12-21 March 1999.
AMAR-SIN IN NIPPUR, CALLED BY ENLIL WHO SUPPORTS THE TEMPLE OF ENLIL, POWERFUL MALE, KING OF UR, KING OF THE 4 QUARTERS OF THE WORLD
Blockprint in blind in Neo Sumerian on clay, Nippur, Sumer, reign of King Amar-Sin, 2047-2038 BC, 1 brick, 17x19x6 cm, originally ca. 33x33x6 cm, 9 columns, (10x11 cm) in cuneiform script.
Context: A original brick printing block of Amar-Sin is MS 2764.
Commentary: Enlil was the chief Sumerian god, whose main temple was in Nippur.
See also MS 1876/1, Hammurabi brick, Babylonia, 1792-1750 BC
TOWER OF BABEL BRICK
NEBUCHADNEZZAR, KING OF BABYLON, GUARDIAN OF THE TEMPLES ESAGILA AND EZIDA, FIRSTBORN SON OF NABOPOLASSAR, KING OF BABYLON
Blockprint in blind in Neo Babylonian on clay, Babylon, 604-562 BC, 1 brick, 33x33x9 cm, single column, (11x15 cm), 7 lines in cuneiform script blindprinted into the wet clay, within a lined rectangle, prior to baking.
Context: Bricks with this inscription were found during the excavation of the great Ziggurat. It stands just north of Esagila, the temple of Marduk, also mentioned in the inscription.
Commentary: The ziggurat in Babylon was originally built around the time of Hammurabi 1792-1750 BC.
The restoration and enlargement began under Nabopolassar, and was finished after 43 years of work under Nebuchadnezzar II, 604-562 BC. It has been calculated that at least 17 million bricks had to be made and fired. Babylon with the ziggurat was captured by Kyros 538 BC, Dareios I 519 BC, Xerxes ca. 483 BC, and entirely destroyed by Alexander I the Great 331 BC. It is this tall stepped temple tower which is referred to in Genesis 11:1-9, and became known as "The Tower of Babel". The bricks are specifically mentioned in Genesis 11:3: "Come, let us make bricks and bake them in the fire. - For stone they used bricks and for mortar they used bitumen". The black bitumen is still visible on the back of the present baked brick. These bricks are considered so important and interesting that British Museum had their copy on exhibit with special handout descriptions, from where parts of the present information is taken. For a stele illustrating The Tower of Babel, see MS 2063. Nebuchadnezzar II was the founder of the New Babylonian empire. He captured Jerusalem in 596 and 586 BC, burnt down the temple and all of Jerusalem, carried its treasures off to Babylon, and took the Jews into captivity (2 kings 24-25). Nebuchadnezzar II is the king who is named more than 90 times in the Old Testament. Daniel 1-4 is almost entirely devoted to the description of his greatness and reign, his rise and fall, and submission to God.
Exhibited: 1. The Bibliophile Society of Norway's 75th anniversary. Bibliofilklubben 75 år. Jubileumsutstilling Bok og Samler, Universitetsbliblioteket 27.2 - 26.4.1997; 2. XVI Congress of the International Organization for the study of the Old Testament. Faculty of Law Library, University of Oslo, 29 July - 7 August 1998.
INVOCATION TO THE GOD PHOEBUS APOLLO WHO RULES OVER MAN, POURING OUT LIBATIONS TO HIM, THAT HE MAY TAKE UP ARMS AND GO THROUGH THE ENEMY'S ARMY TO FREE OR DISCHARGE THE PEOPLE; IN HEXAMETER
Printing in Greek on gold, Euboia, Greece, or Knidos, Turkey, ca. 6th c. BC, 1 lamella with rounded corners, 2,8x9,0x0,1 cm, 6 lines in fine Greek capitals of Euboia or Knidos type.
Provenance: 1. Edith Horsley, London (1965-2000).
Commentary: This is the only gold example of amulets known generically as ephesia grammata, for lead ones, see Kotansky 111-112. References to them in Greek comedies and other literary texts, suggest that they were mass produced and frequently worn. This is the only surviving example that actually has been printed and not incised, directly into the soft metal. The thin sheet of gold was placed over the prototype with raised letters, and pressure applied to the upper side of the gold in order to print the letters in blind. Normally printing refers to use of paper or vellum and ink, or without ink (blind printing), applying blocks or movable types of wood, stone or metals. If the definition of blind printing also includes soft materials like wet clay, lead or gold, in addition to paper, this lamella appears to be the earliest printing in Europe. The above information is partly kindly supplied by Dr. Dominic Montserrat.
MUKUJOKO-KYO; VIMALA-NIRBHASEA-SUTRA: JISHIN-IN DHARANI. INSIDE HYAKUMANTO PAGODA
Blockprint in Japanese on paper, Nara, Japan, 764-770, 1 scroll, 6x45 cm, 31 columns, (5x36 cm), 5 characters per column in Chinese book script, inside a wooden 3-storey pagoda.
Binding: Nara, Japan, 764-770, cypress wood 3-storey pagoda, 22x10 cm, originally painted white, 7 characters inscription at bottom.
Context: The Horyuji temple in the Nara area still possesses a number of these pagodas.
MS 2924 is a pagoda with the text Kompon Dharani (see the illustration).
Provenance: 1. Temple, Nara, Japan (764-770); 2. Sam Fogg cat. 19(1998):152.
Commentary: These pagodas were made in the number of one million, commissioned by Empress Shotuku as thanks for the suppression of the Emi Rebellion by Fujiwara Nakamaro in 764. 900,000 pagodas were distributed to temples around the entire country. 100,000 were divided between the Ten Great temples in the Nara area, which erected special halls for these pagodas, known as the Small Pagoda Hall, or the Ten Thousand Pagoda Hall.
4 different texts were printed, all from the Mukujoko sutra: Kompon Dharani, Storin Dharani, Jishin-in Dharani, and Rokudo Dharani.
ZUENPUO XUMI PUSA SUOJI LUN, SUTRA
Blockprint in Chinese on paper, Korea, 1011-1082, 51 pp. (complete), 30x11 cm, 23 columns, (25x11 cm), 14-15 characters in Chinese book script, 3 collectors' seals.
Binding: Korea, 15th c., concertina-folded format (Jingzhe zhuang), yellow brocade covers. Provenance: 1. Liu Fangyuan, Korea; 2. Shimada Bankon , Japan; 3. Ekky Chung collection, Indonesia/Beverly Hills, California (-1997); 4. Sam Fogg Rare Books Ltd., London.
Provenance: 1. Liu Fangyuan, Korea; 2. Shimada Bankon , Japan; 3. Ekky Chung collection, Indonesia/Beverly Hills, California (-1997); 4. Sam Fogg, London.
Commentary: This sutra is from the Chudiao (First edition) Tripitaka collection of Korea, and was a copy of the Kaibao Tripitaka, the first printed Tripitaka. Its style is basically identical to the Kaibao Tripitaka that preserved each sutra in scroll form. 6 carvers' names can be found in this sutra. The characters from Chudiao are relatively bigger than the later Song Dynasty sutras such as the Dongcan and Kaiyuan Tripitakas, and the calligraphy more similar to the Tang style.
The woodblocks of the Chudiao tripitaka were burned during the Mongolian invasion in 1232. Remains of this edition are extremely rare.
NAGARJUNA BODHISATTVA SUTRA: FANGBIAN XIN LUN; TRANSLATED BY JIJIAYIE AND TANYAO
Blockprint in Chinese on brown mulberry paper, Fuzhou, Fujian province, China, 1095, 75 pp. (complete), folded format, 29x11 cm, 6 columns, (24x11 cm), 17 characters in Chinese book script.
Binding: Japan, 19th c., decorated blue silk cover, gold speckled flyleaves, title in black and gold, concertina-folded format (Jingzhe zhuang).
Context: Another vol. of the Dongcan Tripitaka dated 1097 is MS 2488/1
Provenance: 1. Dongcan temple, Fuzhou, Fujian province (1095); 2. Ekky Chung collection, Indonesia/Beverly Hills, California (-1997); 3. Sam Fogg, London.
Commentary: The sutra was carved on the 2nd year of Shaosheng reign 1095 of Emperor Zhe at Dongcan temple in Fuzhou. From 1080, the patriarch Chongzhen of the Dongcan temple started to gather the funds for the carving of a Tripitaka collection. This work was not completed until 1103. The Dongcan Tripitaka, which corresponds to the 2nd Song Tripitaka edition, eventually finished with more than 6,400 juan in 595 cases. It was also known as Chongni Tripitaka because it was officially approved by Emperor Huei in the 1st year (1102) of Chongni reign, and consequently became the authority of all the Tripitaka.
The style displays an excellent example of Yen Zhenqing, the famous Tang calligrapher. The books of this period provide valuable bibliographical data, such as the names of woodblock carvers. In this case, the name of Guanhou is identified between 2 pages.
MIAOFA LIANHUA JING WENJU; THE PATRIARCH ZHIKAI'S INTERPRETATION OF THE LOTUS SUTRA
Blockprint in Chinese on white mulberry paper, Shanxi (Jianzhou) province, China, 1148-1173, 1 roll of 39 of originally 40 sheets, 30x1922 cm, (24x1918 cm), 26 columns, 20-26 characters in Chinese book script.
Provenance: Guangsheng temple, Zhaocheng county; 2. Ekky Chung collection, Indonesia/Beverly Hills, California (-1997); 3. Sam Fogg Rare Books Ltd., London.
Commentary: This was one of the three most important Chinese treatises contributing to the analysis of the Lotus sutra philosophy. According to the format of this sutra and its typical Yan Zhenqing style calligraphy, it belongs to the Tripitaka published in Jianzhou (present Shanxi province), during the Jin dynasty, which was established by Tungusic tribes and dominated Manchuria and North China from 1115-1234. The Tripitaka is known as the Zhaocheng Tripitaka for being stored in Guangsheng temple in Zhaocheng county. As the only tripitaka produced in the Jin empire, it provides some precious information about how strongly the Tungus had been influenced by Chinese culture.
The Zhaocheng Tripitaka was cut between 1148 and 1173. The original set consisted of some 7,000 rolls in 682 cases, but only 4957 rolls exist today.
BAN GU: HANSHU, HISTORY OF THE WESTERN HAN; SONG DYNASTY EDITION
Blockprint and MS (493 ff.) in Chinese on paper, Fuqing, Fujian province, China, 1304-1334, and Japan (MS), 15th c., 32 vols., 2075 ff. (-14), 27x18 cm, 10 columns (22x15 cm), woodblock printed in Chinese book script, with commentaries and textual collation notes by Myochi(?), Japan 1522.
Binding: Japan, 16th c., stitched bindings (Xian Zhuang) in 11 brocade folding cases.
Context: Hou Hanchu (History of the Eastern Han Dynasty), also from Ogawa's collection, is in Tokyo, the library of the National Museum of History and Ethnology, designated by the government as an Important Cultural Property.
Provenance: 1. Myochi, Japan (1522); 2. Ogawa Takuji, Japan (1870-1941); 3. Obama Toshie, Japan (1889-1972); 4. Sören Edgren Collection, New England (1971-1997); 5. Sam Fogg cat. 19(1998):31.
Commentary: Described and illustrated in Ogawa's rare book catalogue, Shoioshu shooku zosho mokuroku, Kyoto, 1939, p. 7, plates 5-6.
No Song impression without replacement blocks is known to exist.
XINBIAN SHIWEN LEIJU HANMO QUANSHU. ED. BY LIU YINGLI. ENCYCLOPAEDIA OF THE WRITING STYLES AND FORMATS FOR DIFFERENT FUNCTIONS, INCLUDING SHORT LETTERS, CONGRATULATORY MESSAGES, MEMORIALS TO THE THRONE, CERTIFICATES OF MARRIAGE AND OBITUARY, ETC., VOLS. 1-9, 12-14, 16
Blockprint in Chinese on paper, Fujian province?, China, 1307-1367, 13 vols., folded
format, 18x12 cm, 3-15 columns, (15x10 cm), 24 characters in Chinese book script, 2 collector's seals belonging to the same person.
Binding: China, 19th c., blue paper covers stitched on 4 stations (Xian Zhuang).
Context: 2 specimens from different editions, printed in 1307 and 1324, still survive in the Central Library of Taiwan, but both sets are incomplete.
Provenance: 1. Qian Qianyi, Jingzai (1582-1664); 2. Ekky Chung collection, Indonesia/Beverly Hills, California (-1997); 3. Sam Fogg Rare Books Ltd., London.
Commentary: Each subject entry has en abundance of examples. It also explains the standard social manners applicable to different occasions such as engagement, marriage and funeral. Each occasion contains several anecdotes concerning famous literati of the past as models.
This popular work among the Chinese collectors was catalogued in most famous private libraries in the past, but none of those editions were complete.
LIU ZONGYUAN: COMPLETE WORKS OF POETRY; ZENGUANG ZHUSHI YINBIAN TANG LIU XIANGSHENG JI
Blockprint in Chinese on paper, Fujian, China, 1264-1367, 10 vols. (complete), folded format, 24x15 cm, 13 columns, (20x13 cm), 23 characters in Chinese book script.
Binding: China, 20th c., stitched on 4 Stations (Xian Zhuang), blue paper covers.
Provenance: 1. Tao Bozi (1913); 2. Yuan Kewen, China (1913-1931); 3. Cheng Xuejia (1931-1949); 4. Søren Edgren collection, New England, U.S.A. (1950-1998); 5. Sam Fogg Rare Books Ltd., London.
Commentary: Liu Zongyuan (773-819) was a central poet and philosopher. Together with Han Yu (see MS 2663) he was known as one of the Eight Great Men of Letters of the Tang and Song dynasties. His conscientious and prudent writing style was adopted by Chinese and Japanese literati through the ages. This is one of the best and most complete editions of his works.
A preface written by Lu Zhiyuan in 1167 at the beginning of the 1st volume implies that it is a reprint of an even earlier edition.
The prominent collector Yuan Kewen (1890-1931) was the son of Yuan Shikai (1859-1916), the first president of the Republic of China. Yuan Kewen was a renowned artist and records in a colophon in vol. 10 how he exchanged this set with his friend Tao Bozi in 1913. He especially composed a painting to commemorate this event.
HAN YU: ZHUWENGONG JIAO CHANLI XIANSHENG JI. COMPLETE WORKS OF POETRY AND ESSAYS. EDITED BY ZHU XI
Blockprint in Chinese on paper, Fujan, China, 1341, 16 vols. folded format, 25x15 cm, 12 columns, (19x12 cm), 21 characters in Chinese book script, MS annotations in red, 13 collectors' seals.
Binding: China, 19th c., stitched on 4 stations (Xian Zhuang), paper covers.
Context: One other copy known, now in Shanghai Library.
Provenance: 1. Cheng Xuejia, China (1912-1949); 2. Wu Zhou, China (1912-1949); 3. Li Qi, China (1912-1949); 4. Søren Edgren collection, New England (1950-1998); 5. Sam Fogg Rare Books Ltd., London.
Commentary: Han Yu (768-824) was one of the Eight Great Men of Letters of the Tang and Song dynasties. He restored the classic style of writing, which has since become the mainstream of Chinese literature.
Published: In facsimile in the 1930s by the Shanghai Publishing House, from the only known other copy in Shanghai Library.
PERFECTION OF WISDOM SUTRA; DAIHANNYAHARAMITA-KYO; VOL. 194. COMPILED BY XUAN ZANG
Blockprint in Chinese on paper, Japan, 1383, 94 ff. (complete), 26x9 cm, 5 columns (20x9 cm), 17-18 characters in Chinese book script, frontispiece over 5 pp. depicting Sakyamuni, the Historical Buddha seated preaching.
Binding: Japan, late 14th c., stiff paper cover and wrapper decorated with sprinkled gold and silver leaf, concertina-folded format (Orihon).
Context: Volumes from the same set is in London: British Library, vol. 179; Tokyo: the Machida City Museum of Graphic Arts (vol. 334), and other major collections
Provenance: 1. Daijoji Buddhist temple, Hyogo prefecture, Japan (14th-20th c.); 2. Sam Fogg cat. 19(1998):158.
Commentary: The set consisted originally of 600 volumes.
Although this sutra is essentially a copy of a Chinese prototype, the maker of this Japanese version chose to decorate the cover in a purely Japanese manner, sprinkling gold and silver foil over the cover to create the effect of luminous drifting clouds. A similar design covers the thick paper wrapping, which opens to reveal hundreds of tiny gold and silver squares sprinkled over the inside cover. Such decorations were characteristic of paper decorations from the Heian period, and can be found accompanying many fine poems of the Heian and Kamakura periods.
|1.||DIAGRAMS AND ICONS OF WRATHFUL PROTECTIVE DEITIES WITH THEIR MANTRAS|
|2.||TIBETAN BUDDHIST RECITATION TEXTS, SOME INCLUDING THE KALPA (RITUAL PROCEDURES AND OBSERVANCES) , AT LEAST 14 TEXTS|
MS (8 pp.) and block-print in Sanskrit on paper, Beijing?, China, ca. 1400, 198 ff. (complete), 19x19 cm, single column, (18x18 cm), 17 lines in Tibeto-Nepalese book script in red ink, 84 full-page block-printed illustrations in red ink, the same illustration on each side of text, 1 illustration (4 pp.) hand-drawn.
Binding: China, ca. 1400, concertina-folded format (Jingzhe zhuang), cardboard covers with inside and outside pastedown (4 pp.) of pen-drawings in gold on black of 20 icons of the Tathagas, etc. in 4 rows of 5 figures.
Provenance: 1. Sam Fogg cat. 17(1996):4.
Commentary: The text and illustrations are printed twice, once on each side of the paper, to be read in the Indo-Tibetan manner by turning the pages from right to left, or in the Chinese manner turning the pages from left to right. The 4 pp. hand-drawn illustration reveals that the block for this illustration must have been damaged or lacking. The paper was produced 1370-1450 according to radio-carbon dating, which shows that the present book may belong to the 1st. edition, or was produced within the same century.
PUMENPING JING. AVALOKITESVARA SUTRA
Blockprint in Chinese on paper, Beijing, China, 1420, 114 pp., folded format, 30x11 cm, 5 columns, (24x11 cm), 17 characters in Chinese book script, 40 illustrations over 83 pp., 3 illustrated frontispieces depicting Buddha surrounded by disciples and guardian kings in the Ming Dynasty style.
Binding: China, 19th c., concertina-folded format (Jingzhe zhuang), blue paper cover and wrapper.
Context: The same text as MS 2538, and originally the 25th chapter of the Lotus sutra.
Provenance: 1. Ekky Chung collection, Indonesia/Beverly Hills, California (-1997); 2. Sam Fogg Rare Books Ltd., London.
Commentary: The carving was commissioned by general Wang Huan, who also donated 5084 copies for circulation. It was published by the Shang family in Zhihe street.
The 40 illustrations are selected from the cycle of illustrations of the miracles of Guanyin which accompanies the Avalokitesvara Sutra.
FODING XING TUOLUONI JING, SUTRA
Blockprint in Chinese on paper, Beijing, China, 1442, 78 pp., 28x9 cm, 5 columns, (22x9 cm), 9 characters in Chinese book script, 73 half-page, one full-page and one 3-page illustrations.
Binding: China, 20th c., concertina-folded format (Jingzhe zhuang), blue paper covers and wrappers.
Context: MSS 2543, 2555 and 2563 contain the same sutra.
Provenance: 1. Ekky Chung collection, Indonesia/Beverly Hills, California (-1997); 2. Sam Fogg Rare Books Ltd., London.
Commentary: Following the frontispiece, there is a striking stele containing the inscription: May the emperor enjoy a life of a million years.
Each page was divided into two sections, the illustration and the text. Each illustration corresponds to the text. The sutra declares how Guanyin had requested the Buddha to allow the preaching of this sutra to be spread in this world, and contains descriptions of the miracles generated through the worship. The second half of the text provides superstitious methods and the taboos for women to suppress evil powers during childbirth.
According to the colophon the sutra was printed by Puxiu for his deceased son, Desheng. The detailed illustration implies that the devotee was from a higher class, and shows the quality of printing in the capital at the time.
T'ANG LIU: SIEN SHENG TSI; COLLECTED WORKS, VOL. 14
Moveable type printing in Chinese on paper, Seoul, Korea, 1438, 43 ff. (complete), 35x19 cm, 15-17 columns, (26x17 cm), 18 characters in Chinese book script Kabin-Ja type.
Binding: Korea, 19th c., embossed yellow paper covers, stitched on 5 stations (Xian zhuang).
Context: For a single leaf printed in the same moveable type, see MS 2765/2.
Provenance: 1. Lee Gyum Ro, Tong Moon Kwan (his bookshop), Korea (1961); 2. Melvin P. McGovern (ca. 1961-); 3. Widow of Melvin P. McGovern; 4. Sam Fogg Rare Books Ltd., London (1999); 5. Bruce Ferrini, Akron, Ohio.
Commentary: In 1434 the Publications Office was ordered by the king to cast a bronze font of 200,000 pieces of type which was named Kabin-Ja. This momentous event in Korean typographical history is recorded in the Yi Dynasty Annals and in the Third Foreword to the Yoktae janggam bakui of 1437. These accounts state the king, regretting that the type in use, though beautiful, was difficult to read because of the small size of the characters, suggested that a new font be cast from written characters of a larger size. Within two months more than 200,000 were cast, so clear and exact that is was possible to print more than forty sheets per day.
The style of the characters is that of the early Ming calligraphers. Kabin-Ja is sometimes called Wibuin-Ja, or type in the Madame Wi Style, which is the Korean name for the Chinese style of writing of that period.