The Period before Printed Books


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In the Far East, wood-engraving was known since the 8th century but the wooden tables were not so much used as a printing medium but rather to archive texts. Today examples of these tables abound.

Wood engraving was known and used in Central Europe since the early 15th century. The first wood engravings were used to produce playing cards and holy pictures, later the texts of sermons were also produced with wood engraving.

Engraver on Wood - Woodcut of J. Amman, 1586


An artisan transferred the pictures together with the text as a reversed image onto a piece of wood, then another skilled artisan removed all of the non-printing parts. Finally, the positions in relief were dyed, a wet piece of paper was placed on this and then rubbed with a piece of cloth.

In this way it was possible to produce about 200 to 400 copies. When a number of such sheets were bound, this was called a block book. Block books were still being produced several decades after the invention of printing with movable type.