A Short History of the Printed Word

Warren Chappell

This book is likely to retain its place as a design classic, as Chappell recorded a uniquely specific point in history, balancing at the point before computers completely infiltrated design, leaving printing presses and typesetting machines to archaism. This is a history of printing starting with the earliest alphabets evolving through the advances of the printing press, with due given to major contributors to typographic design.

It’s hard not to wonder what Chappell (who died in 1991) would think of the world of design today when he closes, saying,

It is equally imperative that the results of applying modern technology to presswork be constantly measured against the most primitive printing, so that the lessons of the importance of impression and stiff ink may continue as standards for the appearance of words on paper. The key to the comparison should rest in the answer to the question: “Does the page look like an original?” A good page of letterpress printing is an original. It is not a picture of a page of type, it is not a reduction, it is an impression made from the type itself, or a direct casting from it.

There’s a new edition of this book with an additional chapter by Robert Bringhurst (author of another typography standard, The Elements of Typographic Style), which apparently overviews digital progress over the last twenty years, as well as newfound information on typographic history. Obviously, I got an older edition.