King's College London
Online Exhibitions
The printed page

The printed page

Colour lithograph showing examples of species from six different countriesColour lithograph showing examples of species from six different countriesThe history of printing is an integral part of the general history of civilization. The principal vehicle for the conveyance of ideas during the past five hundred years, printing touches on, and often penetrates, almost every sphere of human activity.

With these words SH Steinberg (1899-1969) introduced his seminal work, Five hundred years of printing. Although technical developments unimaginable in 1955, when Steinberg’s book was published, have since transformed the ways in which facts and ideas are disseminated, the printed page retains its pre-eminent place in most spheres of human knowledge.

This online exhibition looks at the work of the printer over the past 500 years through a selection of items from the Foyle Special Collections Library.

The exhibition begins with examples of incunabula (books printed before 1501) and examines the revolutionary changes that the advent of printing with movable type engendered. The early printer often combined the roles of printer, publisher and bookseller; and as the book trade developed in Britain, it became centred around Fleet Street, just to the south of the Maughan Library.

In the 18th century the book trade began to acquire its present-day professional demarcations, as the functions of printer, publisher and bookseller gradually ceased to be combined in one person. The Industrial Revolution brought the inevitable expansion of the book trade, as the printing process was mechanised, but also gave rise to a conscious harking back to the craft tradition, exemplified in the productions of William Morris’s Kelmscott Press.

Elsewhere in this online exhibition we explore how many printers have attracted unwelcome attention from the authorities and been viewed with suspicion by officers of the state. The online exhibition ends with an examination of artists’ books, items with unusual formats and concrete poetry productions, whose experimental nature challenges our preconceptions of what a book should look like.

Please note: this exhibition originally ran from 19 March to 30 June 2018 in the Weston Room of the Maughan Library, King’s College London and is now available to view as an online exhibition only.

Exhibition curated by: Heather Anderson, Adam Ray and Katie Sambrook
With contributions from: Charlotte Chambers, Brandon High and Jenn Price

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