Introduction : Pre-Gutenberg Printing


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.