Antique Chinese Metal / Wood Printing Block
AGE: – Unknown – Likely early 20th century
CONSTRUCTION: – Wood and metal
DESCRIPTION: – Antique Chinese Metal / Wood Printing Block
HEIGHT: – 22.7cm
WIDTH: – 13cm
DEPTH: – 2.5cm
WEIGHT: – 650gms
#206 – PRICE: – CONTACT
Antique Chinese Metal / Wood Printing Block written in Chinese characters is likely commissioned by a medical company to place advertisements in the publications of the day or for a flyer and is similar to this metal wood printing block which has both English and Chinese characters.
This particular Chinese Metal / Wood Printing Block may have been made using a plaster cast and could have been made in China, Malaysia or Singapore. We tend to lean more towards Malaysia or Singapore because of the English-speaking expatriates who lived there during the colonial period, but we have no idea as to its true age.
At the beginning of the 19th century, Lord Stanhope developed a printing press made of metal which allowed for large-format printing, he also contributed to the commercial success of the stereotyping process, that is — printing from a solid plate of type metal cast from plaster. The technique was widely adopted and used for reprinting throughout the 19th and earth 20th centuries. The stereotype plate was first used in the United States in 1813 and remained one of the most distinctive aspects of American book production.
The Oxford Illustrated History of the Book
edited by James Raven
Chinese Metal / Wood Printing Block
Woodblock printing became a popular method of producing books and documents in China during the Tang dynasty (618-907 AD). The process involved carving the text and illustrations on wooden planks, applying ink to the surface, and then pressing paper or fabric onto the blocks. The blocks could be reused for multiple copies, but they were also prone to wear and tear. Moreover, carving a large number of characters was time-consuming and labour-intensive. To overcome these limitations, some Chinese inventors experimented with movable type printing, which involved using separate pieces of metal or clay to form words and sentences.
In the 8th century printers in Zhejiang, China produced a copy of the Tripitaka using approximately 130,000 wooden printing blocks. During the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) printing techniques became more sophisticated with the introduction of full colour and with that a much wider range of literature and advertising followed.
The beginning of Moveable Letterpress Printing.
The earliest known inventor of movable type printing in China was Bi Sheng (990-1051 AD), who lived during the Northern Song dynasty (960-1127 AD). According to Shen Kuo (1031-1095 AD), a scholar and official who wrote about Bi Sheng’s invention in his book Dream Pool Essays, Bi Sheng used clay to make movable type pieces that he baked in a fire. He then arranged the pieces on an iron plate coated with resin, wax, and paper ash, and heated the plate to make the type stick together. He could then print pages by applying ink to the type and pressing paper onto it. After printing, he could break apart the type and reuse it for different texts.
Bi Sheng’s movable type printing was an ingenious innovation, but it had some drawbacks. The clay type was fragile and easily broken, and it was difficult to align the characters evenly on the iron plate. Moreover, since Chinese writing has thousands of characters, making and storing movable type pieces was still cumbersome and costly. Therefore, woodblock printing remained the dominant method of printing in China for centuries.
Metal movable type printing was further developed and improved by other Chinese inventors. One of them was Wang Zhen (1290-1333 AD), who lived during the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368 AD). Wang Zhen improved Bi Sheng’s movable type printing by using bronze instead of clay to make more durable and precise type pieces. He also invented a wooden revolving table with compartments for storing and selecting the type pieces. He wrote a book called Nong Shu (Book of Agriculture), which described his invention and other aspects of farming and technology. He printed his book using his metal movable type system in 1313 AD.
Another Chinese inventor who advanced metal movable type printing was Hua Sui (1439-1513 AD), who lived during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644 AD). Hua Sui was a scholar and printer who established his own publishing house in Nanjing. He was the first person in China to use bronze movable type printing for commercial purposes. He printed many books on various subjects, such as history, literature, philosophy, medicine, and astronomy. He also improved the quality of ink and paper used for printing.
Metal movable type printing reached its peak in China during the Qing dynasty (1644-1911 AD) when many books were printed using this method. Some of the most famous examples are the Siku Quanshu (Complete Library of the Four Treasuries), a massive collection of Chinese classics compiled by the imperial order in the eighteenth century; and the Kangxi Zidian (Kangxi Dictionary), a comprehensive dictionary of Chinese characters published in 1716 AD under the reign of Emperor Kangxi.
Metal movable type printing had several advantages over woodblock printing. It was more efficient, accurate, and economical. It also allowed for more flexibility and creativity in designing fonts and layouts. However, it also faced some challenges, such as competition from woodblock printing, which was cheaper and faster for mass production; resistance from conservative scholars and officials, who preferred the traditional style of woodblock printing; and cultural barriers, such as the complexity and diversity of Chinese writing systems.
Metal movable type printing was one of the most remarkable inventions in the history of printing in China. It demonstrated the ingenuity and skill of Chinese craftsmen and scholars, and it contributed to the dissemination and preservation of Chinese culture and knowledge. It also influenced the development of printing in other parts of East Asia, such as Korea and Japan, where metal movable type printing was introduced and adopted. However, metal movable type printing did not spread to Europe until much later, when it was independently invented by Johannes Gutenberg in the mid-fifteenth century. Gutenberg’s invention sparked the printing revolution in Europe, which had a profound impact on the history of Western civilization.
Although the introduction of metal type by Johannes Gutenberg in the 1400s Gutenberg’s invention revolutionized the production and dissemination of books, which had a profound impact on the cultural, religious, and intellectual life of Europe and beyond, one hundred and fifty years prior to this, Choe Yun-ui, a Korean civil minister who lived during the Goryeo Dynasty used moveable metal type to compile the Sangjeong Yemun, “The prescribed Ritual Text of the Past and Present”, a landmark in Korean printing history. With the help of another 16 scholars, they published a set of 50 books that established the system of official uniforms, and the hierarchy of official ranks from kings to subjects, to prevent conflicts and social unrest.
To read more on the history of block printing this is an excellent resource.