katherine kerr of the Hermitage, her site

Printing and Manuscript Material

Given that I deal with words all day, and have been a publisher, in both electronic and print formats, for much of my mundane professional life, it's perhaps surprising that it took me so long to think about combining these skills with some of my SCA interests.

It all began with a simple printed broadside (Dickon's Lament), and has gone a long long way since then.

One of the things which really inspired me early on was the discovery of a great period-style font developed by Geoffrey Shipbrook (Jeff Lee). I have used his JSL Ancient font for a good deal of my period printed material, and will forever be grateful to him for his generosity and inspiration.

I have done book-binding courses and have some equipment to support that, but have spent most of my time focused on printed and hand-written ephemera....so included here are the topics and links for manuscript materials as well, including items which mix both.

There are also more printed material examples and discussions in my section on maps, as I'm using many of the techniques and tools across both areas.

Main Printing Menu

COVID-19 Distraction: A Fateful Trip: the Caribbean Voyage from the Baskin-Kerr Archives

Manuscripts et al

Being a collection of handwritten or illuminated materials.

The Style of Period Printing

I wrote this for an A&S class as a general introduction to the style of period printing and how to reproduce the look of late-period printing for use in the SCA context. If you'd like something you can print out for study or distribution, here's a PDF version.

A very brief taste of printing history

There are many and varied claims for the invention of printing. China gets the nod, as with so many things, for the oldest printed book, the Diamond Sutra of the fifth century, made up of woodblock pages. However, as with so many of those inventions, there seems to have been relatively little knowledge transfer outside the borders of the empire. This handout deals with printing in Europe from the 1400s onwards.

Block printing was well established in Europe in the 13th century, primarily for decorating cloth. It wasn't a big jump to printing on paper, once that became readily available in the 1400s and soon everything from religious images to playing cards were being produced. Carving lettering and illustrations into woodblocks was not very efficient, and the blocks didn't last too long either. When Gutenberg and others started experimenting with movable type, that caught on because of the uniformity it made possible, and the flexibility and robust nature of the technology.

The uptake of the technology was very very rapid and spread very quickly throughout most of Europe. Thanks to Gutenberg, from 1439 the Germans had the early lead, but by 1500, Venice boasted over 400 printers and had become a recognised powerhouse for elegant humanist printing which still commands attention and admiration. Aldus Manutius and Nicolas Jenson produced beautiful works in very high quality typefaces, and found a ready market in small format books and softbound covers. Printers in Paris, which eventually become a major centre, started up in 1470. Even the New World had a press operational in Mexico City by 1540, and the Spanish were printing in the Philippines in 1593.

Gutenberg had been very nervous that his new approach would not find favour with the Powers That Be. So he did his very best to try to make his printed Bibles indistinguishable from the traditional manuscript ones of the day. He initially had large capital letters filled in by hand, but quickly developed the concept of two-colour printing. Pre-1500 works by Gutenberg and others are referred to as incunabula, as they formed the "cradle" of printing. By 1500, it is estimated that 1,700 printers, operating in 300 towns, had produced around 15 million volumes.

Print houses saw a combination of artisan skills and enthusiastic marketing. Master printers were assisted by apprentices. If the latter learned Latin, they might aspire to become compositors, setting the type; or become journeymen -- literally spreading the knowledge as they moved from publishing house to publishing house across Europe. It was strenuous work, involving preparing the new oil-based inks, dampening paper, working the hefty presses (themselves said to be adapted from olive oil presses).

Specialisation came early, with the printers working in tandem with booksellers, who always had their eye out for a successful pitch. Caxton's first print job in England was the Indulgence of 1476, which had gaps for the names of the purchasers to be written in. Like Gutenberg’s Bible, it was designed to look as if it has been written in blackletter. Latin grammars and instructional books were popular, and many books had lengthy prefaces extolling the virtues of a noble (sometimes unwitting) patron. Caxton has the credit for the first printed book in England, his own translation of a history of Troy; he also printed Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

Woodcut blocks developed from fairly crude efforts into fine form, and engraving and etching allowed masters like Albrecht Durer to produce astonishingly detailed illustrations to accompany the poetry, prose and all manner of secular text that started to pour off the presses. Design aspects in use today developed early: page numbering, title pages, tabbed entries and indexes, pointy-hand or leafy dingbats. What didn’t change was the technology, not for another 300 years.

Soon the presses were producing pamphlets calling for religious reformation, news stories of monsters and strange occurrences, accounts of tournaments, broadsides with the lyrics of popular or scurrilous songs. Life would never be as quiet again…

Useful Exemplars for SCA Printing

See the rest of this printing section for examples and further references.

Broadsides/Broadsheets: useful approach for event announcements, flyers, advertisements etc
A broadside is printed on one side; a broadsheet on both. Sometimes a large piece of paper was folded to quarto or octavo to produce an unbound, multi-page leaflet. Usually associated with popular ballads, but they also included handbills, proclamations, advertisements and other topical information; warnings; protests or public satires
Format: Ranged from large proclamations (approx 1000 x 500 mm) to small handbills (200 x 150 mm); typically with a multi-sentence title header, a large woodcut illustration and a double-column, right-registered format with a large woodcut initial and smaller woodcut sidebars
Reference: English Broadside Ballad Project

Chapbooks: model for event booklet, ball cheat notebook, song lyrics
Small, cheap booklets containing reprints of popular ballads, jests, gossip, recipes, horoscopes and rude stories, sometimes illustrated with suitably racy woodcuts (a bit like the tabloid magazines of modern times)
Format: Paper; folded into 4to or 8to; limp bound and pamphlet stitched; covered with recycled paper or poor quality vellum, blue or brown paper wrappers or no covers; stab-stitched with 3/5 holes, untrimmed, not lettered on the outside
Reference: The Scottish Chapbook Project

Commonplace books: model for event booklet, personalised journals, recipe collections etc
A blank or pre-printed journal with passages collected under common headings: quotes, poems, recipes, lists, laws, prayers, jokes, heraldic blazons, predictions, mathematical tables, astronomical/astrological lore etc, representing the writer’s interests or whatever “noble thoughts” the education system or parents thought they should have
Format: Sizes vary (period examples: 312 x 200mm, 207 x 140mm). Usually paper, with vellum commonly used as a cover, tied with silk ties; sometimes covered in a leather wallet binding, closed with a strap and buckle.
Reference: Commonplace Books, Yale

Festival book: possible model for an event booklet, especially for Crown events
Festival books were the souvenir programmes of the day, listing who had attended important events, eye-witness accounts of what happened (sometimes even by actual eye-witnesses!), reports of sporting competitions, and ballads and poems in honour of the higher-ups; usually produced after the event
Format: 1520 Cloth of Gold Festival Book: 18 cm x 11 cm, in blackletter, some woodcuts, single or double column
Reference: British Library Festival Book collection

Music: for your singing groups
Single-page woodcuts of music were printed from the latter part of the 1400s. Moveable type used multiple pulls off the press to first print the staves, then the notes and lastly the lyrics. By the 1520s, individual type had a note, or other musical symbol, along with its section of stave, to allow compositing and single-impression printing.
Format: song books were printed in separate parts, or with four different parts laid out at 90 degrees for the singers to stand around. Church music sometimes had double-impression printing to print the staves in red and the rest in black. Lines often start with large plain caps or initial woodcuts.
Reference: Musicke of sundrie kindes, University of Glasgow

Playbills: for theatre and other entertaining activities, advertisements or flyers
Period playbills were too ephemeral to survive. It seems reasonable to base them on title pages, as these often referenced theatrical performances, including woodcuts from scenes; lists of characters and players; even song lyrics.
Format: typically vertical with a longer aspect ratio (height to width) than standard paper size (eg three bills on A4 landscape); mixed sized fonts, woodcuts, performing company attributions
Reference: Shakespeare and the Book: The Playhouse in Printing House

Vade mecum (aka girdle book, belt book, folded book): for ball cheat sheets, event information
A period filofax, consisting of sheets folded into a small size and bound together so as to be readily tucked into a belt for ready reference; used for astronomical almanacs and doctors’ manuals with each sheet holding a different topic
Format: main feature is the stab-stitch binding of a series of folded single sheets
Reference: Boston College example

Roundels: for use at feasts, High Table
Placemats made of thin wood, pasteboard or varnished paper, usually in boxed sets of 6-12, printed and/or painted with songs, riddles, illustrations or heraldry
Reference: Nine sycamore roundels with Aesop’s Fables paintings and morals

Making something look perioid

Much of what we print for SCA events would be regarded as ephemera – short-term forms of communication which are not designed to stand the test of time. This creates some interesting problems in researching period usage of such materials as they, too, tend to have been thrown away or recycled once their initial utility had passed. Many examples have only been found because of they have been recycled as pasted endpapers in books or somesuch. Consider the kind of document you want to produce – an event announcement, a playbill, a Ball cheatsheet. See if you can find examples, and get a feel for the impression they give in terms of layout and design.

What kind of font/typography is used?
Is it blackletter – sometimes thought of as German or Gothic, but used across much of Europe for printed materials from the late 1400s on. Or does the period example use a basic Roman font? Is there use of mixed font sizes, or the inclusion of italic lettering? Are there large initial capital letters at the beginning of the paragraphs, and what sort of style are these?

While blackletter is the more common in period materials, for SCA use, it is probably better to go with a Roman font as many people have problems reading the more complex letter forms, especially in candlelight! There’s good reason why period printers quickly developed Roman typefaces or even imitations of humanist handwriting! There are lots of free fonts available. I highly recommend Geoffrey Shipbrook’s font set as a great late-period printing typeface. Pia Frauss has excellent fonts for a more handwritten look. Early printing in italic text often used non-italic capitals. It took a while for the idea of matched typefaces – and even capitals – to catch on.

What orientation is the page? Is it landscape (horizontal) or portrait (vertical)?
You need to bear this in mind if you are wanting to do a multi-page print on one leaf. Folding an A3 page in half will give you two leaves or four pages of A4 area to play with; use an A4 page and you have a smaller, more portable work. A single fold like this is a folio fold and is usually the largest size produced (typically over 13 inches tall in period). Make two folds, and you have a quarto (4to), with four leaves and 8 pages; fold again and you have an octavo (8to) of 8 leaves; 16 pages. Some of the folds will be on the edges, requiring cutting. Start with a big enough sheet and you can have a 64to as with some period printed miniatures. For our purposes an octavo from A4 is about as small as you’ll probably want to go.

You can also change the familiar look and feel of modern page sizes simply by going for a different aspect ratio (the height to width proportions) – trim the page to make it narrower or, if you’re doing playbills or menus, lay out three copies across an A4 landscape page.

What characterises the layout of the content?
Are titles centred; does the lettering reduce in size; is the text right justified (ie does it line up on the right margin); how wide are the margins; are there notes in the margin (termed a scholar’s column)? Early printers played about with their typefaces, mixing them up and often going for a reduction in size as your eye moves down the major title. They sometimes liked to arrange the text to fit shapes, such as reverse triangles or even outlines of things like goblets.

In period printed books, typically you’ll see large margins at the outside and bottom edge of the page; narrower margins towards the spine and often jammed tight up against the top. It can take a while to get used to this, as the modern eye is more familiar with a more symmetrical layout. The gutters (the internal white space between columns of text) tend to be narrower than we are used to, even filled with woodcut foliage.

What characterises the graphic material?
Are illustrations used; how are they placed within the page; do they have frames around them? A reasonable amount of copyright-free woodcuts are on the Web (see resources below). They range from the very rough to the exquisite. It’s a good idea to match the quality of the font you use to the illustrations.

What is the paper like? What are the edges like?
Choosing a suitable paper makes a difference; keep away from the bright white bleached modern copy paper if you can. There are cheap papers available which are off-white and comparable to period paper; you don’t have to print on vellum! A laid finish can be useful to give the look of a handmade paper – they can be identified by the parallel lines running against the grain of the paper, used to simulate the handmade output (or, easier, check the label of the ream). Some people like the feathery deckle edging as a Ye Olde Worlde effect; but early bookbinders and printers tended to trim the edges of their pages cleanly. The same holds for fake foxing or the tea-stain-type antiquing beloved of things such as maps to pirate treasure. The latter is traditionally done by splashing tea across a page, or the use of printed marbled paper – it’s really not necessary, as period paper was better quality than ours and has tended to stand up to the test of time.

Main things to remember: You can go a long way to making something look more period with a suitable font, a couple of woodcut-style images and some non-bleached paper stock.

References and Resources

General Info and Background
Weisner-Hanks, Merry; The World of the Renaissance Print Shop
Technologies of Writing in the Age of Print, Folger Shakespeare Library
The Dawn of Printing: Incunabula (pre-1500 printing)
Making the Book, Bryn Mawr
Grand Gargantua Project: scans of period typefaces, fonts, illustrations
An Introduction to Printing
The Typographics Archives

Fonts and Typography
Some period fonts would be perfectly acceptable today, and common everyday fonts like Times Roman, Caslon, Bembo, Granjon and others closely resemble what was used 400 years ago, even though they look very modern to our eyes. To avoid that issue and get the Ye Olde look, it helps to have a slightly more “distressed” font to work with.
Geoffrey Shipbrook fonts (Jeff Lee): free JSL Ancient (Roman), JSL Blackletter, and a handy converter to provide ligatures, short and long s etc; based on fonts from the 1680s, but absolutely fine for period use
Dieter Staffman: large selection of fonts, including many in medieval style, blackletter/fraktur, Caslon Antique, and initial caps; free to download; sadly no info on the origins/source or inspiration for the fonts
Pia Frauss fonts: lovely freely downloadable fonts based directly on analysis of period manuscripts (rather than printing) such as 1275 Hapsburg, Italian 1490, Danish 1597, using exemplars ranging from a Borgia, Tycho Brahe, Gaston’s Book of the Hunt and German chancery materials. Great for personal handwriting projects such as correspondence, journals, licenses, patents, without the need to learn the script.
Typography Amsterdam: includes scanned collections of works by printers from Italy, Germany, Iberia and more
An overview of European Typography 1470-1501
Milestones in Typography: good overview throughout Europe with brief biographies and examples
Shakespeare’s Sonnets: title pages and links to other printed materials

Illustrations: woodcuts
There are lots of possible sources, online or in the various Dover collections, ranging from exquisite to very crudely produced. You can also approximate with scanned hand-drawn material.
The Boke of Good Cookery Woodcut Clipart Collection
A Heavenly Craft - The Woodcut in Early Printed Books
Woodcut Book Illustration in Renaissance Italy: The First Illustrated Books, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Paper Stock
(generally readily available from Warehouse Stationery or other major paper stockists in New Zealand)
Stay away from the pseudo-textured marbled papers beloved of scrapbookers and Ye Olde pirate party invitations. Period paper was surprisingly close to modern paper in both weight and look. The main thing is to find an off-white stock, it doesn’t have to be distinctly cream/yellow, just not the usual bleached white of modern laser/copier paper.

Conqueror Bond Laid: 100gsm Oyster: a good approximation for period weight/ colour, ($100/500), strongly grained and sized on one side so if you are folding it, take that into account
Goatskin Parchment (imitation): an archival paper, A4 120gsm makes a good weight and substitute for light parchment, though a tad pricey for bulk use ($100/250)
Parchmentine/permaganata (aka vegetable parchment): a high-quality parchment substitute, A4-B2, 120-230gsm; very hard to source these days; the Scribes Guild recommends it for scrolls
Maestro: Vanilla/Buff, 80gsm, A4, a tad on the yellow side, but a good cheap option for bulk printing ($15/500)
Trophee Clairefontaine: 160gsm, A4, cream, a stiffish card, suitable for scrolls and proclamations ($36/500)
Watercolour Paper (eg Bockingford): A4-A3, 150gsm, hot pressed is best for a smooth surface, good for presentations but laser printer output is inclined to rub off if handled

Back to top

Period Proofreading

I spent a year or so as a proofreader for an English-language newspaper in Japan, and was taught the rather arcane shorthand symbols used by Associated Press to indicate things like missing text and punctuation, lack of capitalization, bolding and the like. These symbols have changed only marginally since the very early days of printing, and Aldus Manutius and his brethren would have little difficulty in figuring out what was required from the marks in margins I have proofed (apart from the Japanese katakana iki replacing the still-used Latin term stet, for “let it stay as-is”).


Brittanica:Proofreading Cormack, Cormack & Mazzio, Carla. Book Use, Book Theory: 1500-1700; Special Collections, University of Chicago Library:
Hellinga, Lotte; Texts in Transit: Manuscript to Proof and Print in the Fifteenth Century; BRILL, 2014
Lee, R.C.; Proofing marks: Learn English or Starve; 30 July 2012
McMurtrie, Douglas; The Corrector of the Press in the Early Days of Printing; Conde Nast Press 1922

Hellinga notes one early work of 317 printed pages includes 46 pages “with marks which anyone who has ever corrected proofs will recognised as proof corrections”; she mentions her “shock of recognition” and goes on to note that “some pages have as many as 30” (pg 104). Clearly a work which needed scrutiny.

So when I came to undertake the rather large project of Lady Elizabeth Braythwayte’s Book of Physick, I found myself printing a proof copy of the numerous signatures that made up the tome and working my way through proofing them for all the usual errors. I made a point of marking up the proofs in ink as I decided early on that I would have the proof copy bound as an example of my work and also an interesting teaching tool demonstrating the process of printing.

In Antwerp I had visited the printing house of Plantius-Moretus (now a brilliant printing museum), where the proofreaders had a set of comfortable bench seats, a large table and big windows to aid them in their task of poring over the masses of printed material that came from that venerable family. The firm employed three proofreaders alongside 20 typesetters and 32 printers working with 16 printing presses.

It is clear from marks in various incunabula dating back as early as 1459 (Hellinga, pg 111) that proofing was something undertaken regularly and eventually regularised into a set series of symbols with associated instructions. It is not surprising that relatively little remains of early proofing materials as the proofed copies were unlikely to be kept – even if proofed work was bound, proofing is typically done in the margins of the printed sheets, making such marks liable to be trimmed off when the publication is ploughed to straighten the edges of the signatures. That said, there are extant printers’ copies with proofing marks from the 16th century across a range of printers working in Latin, Greek, German, Italian, French, Dutch and English, and some proof sheets have turned up within bindings or have been used for wrapping (as in the Plantius-Moretus house where type from the 16th century has been kept together with old proof sheets) (Hellinga).

The first actual proofing manual was published just out of period in 1608, being the Orthotypographia of Hieronymus Hornschuch. Earlier work had been a bit a hit-and-miss, with early authors expected to turn up at the publishers and correct their own texts – a contract cited by Britannica and dated as early as 1499 makes the author responsible for such corrections. This did tend to encourage a highly individualised approach and lead to many dark comments about the lack of literacy amongst typesetters and others involved in the process. Lawsuits ensued from the 15th century onwards, and errata sheets soon made an appearance to try to correct the more egregious errors.

It had clearly become an issue as in 1539, Francis I approved regulations requiring printers to “employ capable correctors...to correct the books with care and diligence” (McMurtrie, pg 12-13). In return, authors were exhorted to provide decent copy for the typesetters to work from, as scribbled text with complex corrections were considered as much a part of the problem as hasty typesetting or jobbing print firms.

Hornschuch produced his manual with the aim of regularising production and eliminating errors, making books more useable (Cormack & Mazzio). Like many early proofreaders, he had an academic background, being a doctor of medicine, and familiar with a number of languages. Interestingly, although proofreaders were well established by then, the actual term “proofreading” only dates back to the 1930s (Lee).

Back to top

[Home] [Persona] [Poetry] [Songs] [Plays] [Events] [Activities] [Articles]
[Maps] [Printing] [Garb] [Embroidery] [For the Children] [Swift Flight] [Email kk]

The material on this Website, except where a third party is acknowledged, is copyright to Vicki Hyde.
If you'd like to use anything from it, please contact me.