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Penny Dreadfuls & Murder Broadsides

The Industrial Revolution mechanized printing and reduced costs, leading to explosive growth in publishing. At the same time, an unprecedented increase in literacy produced millions of new readers and sparked a reading revolution. But what were these new readers to read? One of the century’s most popular genres, sold on the streets of Victorian England, was the penny dreadful. Cheap, entertaining and extraordinarily popular. This is their story.

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Who invented the news­paper?

News has been around as long as humans have. From word of mouth to handwritten newsletters to printed newspapers in the early 1600s, the news has always captivated us. It has evolved from an expensive and bespoke service for an elite few into a major part of today’s mass media.

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Prints & Propa­ganda

By the sixteenth century, printmaking — or art prints — had become a burgeoning industry in Europe. Millions were printed and many thousands have survived until the present day. Their significance goes well beyond their value as art or artifact, revealing a great deal more than artists’ talents and virtuosity. A closer look at their subject matter and iconography reveals much about the motives of those who collaborated to publish them, sometimes making them as much propaganda as art.

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Make the Letter Bigger

A brief history of the drop-cap: Decorated or illuminated initials were an important part of medieval manuscripts for a thousand years. From luxurious gold and silver letters to plain drop capitals, they functioned to illustrate, commentate, and adorn the text. Learn their history and purpose, why they eventually went out of fashion, and what replaced them.

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Inventing Posters

The modern poster first appeared in France in the 19th century, but its antecedents can be found in Renaissance printmaking. Woodcut, engraving, etching, and drypoint were techniques used by the likes of Albrecht Dürer, Hieronymus Bosch, and Raphael, while printmaking publishers, like Hieronymus Cock, helped popularize the standalone art print and turn it into a thriving industry.

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Black Print

The remarkable story of early African American print culture; its authors, editors, journalists, printers, and publishers. From protest pamphlets to the first Black newspapers, periodicals and books.

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The Writing Mistress

From around the beginning of the 1600s, there was a renewed interest in calligraphy. At the same time, women, known as writing mistresses, begin to teach handwriting and calligraphy to young women. Maria Strick in the Netherlands and Marie Pavie, perhaps from France, are the first two women to have their calligraphy copybooks published in print.

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Death of a Typeface

Robert Granjon (1513–90) was a French type designer who, in 1557, invented a new style of typeface that was modeled on contemporary handwriting. It later came to be know as Civilité, after the civilité or etiquette books which the typeface often appeared in. Although Granjon wished for his Civilité to become the national typeface of France, it never really caught on, and it never seriously competed with Roman and Italic fonts.

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Fun with Fonts

Today I launched two short multiple choice quizzes. The first starts at the beginning with Gutenberg, with questions about his life and his famous Bible. Some of the questions are pretty easy; others you might find rather difficult. The second game, Glorious Glyphs, tests your font identification chops by having you identify individual characters or […]

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Granjon’s Beautiful Bastard

When books began to be printed in the fifteenth century, scribes were not immediately redundant. The rich still commissioned them to produce deluxe manuscripts, governments and local authorities still required secretaries and copyists for administrative documents, and even printed books left spaces for decorated initials and other elements to be added in by hand. What’s […]

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