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A View of Latin Typography in Relationship to the World

By Peter Bil'ak

It is generally acknowledged that it was Gutenberg who invented movable type printing in 1436. It is generally forgotten that what is missing in that statement is the necessary qualifier “in Europe”. Thanks to the present-day dominance of Latin script we have largely forgotten that there are parallel histories outside of Europe, but the first recorded movable type system was more likely created in China around 1040 AD by Bi Sheng. His early type was made of wood, which was later abandoned in favour of baked clay, which produced smoother imprints. Unlike Latin script which uses 26 letters, Chinese script uses thousands of characters, making type composition particularly complicated. Nevertheless, movable type has been in continuous use in China since the 11th century.

Elsewhere too, printing progressed. Choe Yun-ui, a Korean civil minister, made the transition from wood to metal movable type around 1230 AD. Metal movable type was also invented independently of the Koreans in China during the Ming Dynasty. During the Mongol Empire movable type moved further west. According to legend, Laurens Janszoon Coster, a respected citizen of Haarlem, could have been the first European to invent movable type, if the account presented by Hadrianus Junius is true. But the story is not widely believed, which brings us back to Johannes Gutenberg of Mainz, who invented movable type a decade later. In Europe. 

Read full article here: A View of Latin Typography