Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Primary Source Education Modules > Gutenberg Bible > Glossary
The Invention  -  Books Before and After  -  Johann Gutenberg  -  Facts about the Book  -  Activities  -  Glossary  -  Teacher Resources



An abbreviation for "before the Common Era" or "before the Christian era," used after numerals and references to centuries.

The flat table of a printing press that holds the form. After the form is inked, the bed is moved beneath the platen for printing and then back out again.

Bed-and-platen press
Invented in 1824 and used throughout the 1800s, the bed-and-platen press was four times faster than a hand press.

The word "bible" comes from the Greek word biblia, meaning books. When the early sacred Judeo-Christian writings were bound together, they were called "bibles."

Black letter
The style of typeface used by Gutenberg to print his Bible, modeled after the kind of lettering then popular in religious manuscripts of Gutenberg's region of Germany.

Bole is a pinkish clay applied by an illuminator under gold leaf to make the gold appear thicker, more lavish, and three-dimensional.

An abbreviation for "Common Era," used after numerals and references to centuries.

A four-sided metal frame in which composed type is locked in columns or pages.

A book form made of folded sheets that are sewn together along one edge.

Composing stick
A handheld tool in which type is placed one line at a time before being transferred to the galley.

In a print shop, the worker who arranges type in preparation for printing.

A writing system invented by the Sumerians in ancient Mesopotamia. It was often inscribed on damp clay tablets using a wedge-shaped stylus. Cuneiform means "wedge writing" in Latin.

Cylinder press
In this press, a piece of paper is pressed between a flat surface and a cylinder in which a curved plate or type is attached. The cylinder then rolls over the flat surface and produces an impression over the paper. Cylinder presses were much faster than platen and hand presses and could print between 1000 and 4000 impressions per hour.

Decorated Letter
A letter that is painted and enlarged for emphasis to introduce a section of text.

An edition is the total number of copies of a work printed at one time.

The whole body of type that is locked into a chase in preparation for printing.

A board onto which the type is transferred line by line from the composing stick while it is waiting to be arranged into pages of text.

Gilding and Gold Leaf
The application of gold or silver to a surface. Gold could be applied as ink, but in medieval illumination it was more frequently applied in the form of very thin sheets of hand-beaten gold known as gold leaf. The gold leaf was applied to an area in which some adhesive had been laid down. Gilding could be messy and required trimming with a knife, so gold leaf was the first material applied by the artist in the process of illumination.

A comment or explanatory note added to a text, often in the margin or footer of the page.

An association of tradesmen.

Ancient Egyptian picture-writing.

An ideogram is a character or symbol representing an idea or a thing without expressing the pronunciation of a particular word or words for it.

Illuminations are painted decorations added after text is handwritten or printed. The term illumination comes from the Latin illuminare, which means to light up. An illuminated manuscript is technically one decorated with gold or silver because it reflects light. Many manuscripts and books, however, are richly decorated with colors and not gold or silver. The term illumination is often used in a general, if not completely accurate, way to refer to all of these artistic embellishments.

Pronounced, and often Anglicized as, incunable. Books printed on presses before the year 1501 are called incunabula, which comes from a word meaning "cradle" or "birthplace" in Latin.

A liquid used for writing or printing. Medieval ink was a solution of water, gall, and gum and was made black by the addition of carbon (lampblack) and/or iron salts.

Justified lines
Lines of text brought to equal length in a column or page.

Linotype machine
A machine used to mechanize composition during the first half of the twentieth century. An operator would type on a keyboard similar to a typewriter and produce a perforated band of paper. The band was then decoded by a machine that casts type from hot metal. These machines cast a whole row of type at a time, so if an operator made an error it meant the whole line would have to be retyped and recast.

A handwritten book or any handwritten document, whether letter, musical score, or book.

Notes or commentary written by hand in the margins of a book or manuscript.

A small, reusable plate of metal that held a forward-facing impression of a letter or other character. The matrix was placed inside a mold to cast as many pieces of identical type as were needed for its particular letter or character.

The Medieval period in European history is that period between antiquity and the Renaissance often dated from 476 to 1453 CE.

Small paintings that accompany text in a manuscript or printed books are often called miniatures, not because they are small, but because a red lead pigment, called minium in Latin, was frequently used to decorate the initial letters.

A community of persons, especially monks, bound by vows to a religious life and often living in partial or complete seclusion from society. The dwelling place of such a community.

Monotype machine
A machine used to mechanize composition during the first half of the twentieth century. The monotype machine worked much like the linotype machine. A monotype operator would similarly type out a text. Each key stroke produced a perforated tape. The operator then tore off the tape and ran it through a separate casting machine, which produced a mold containing matrices for each character. Monotype had the advantage of being easier to correct because it was possible to remove a single letter of type.

Movable type
Type cast as single units, which can be arranged and then rearranged into blocks of text. It was this invention by Gutenberg that made the printing revolution possible.

An erased parchment, which is then reused.

Papyrus is a tall reed that grows in the marshy areas around the Nile River. The fibers from the papyrus plant were used to make sheets for writing.

Parchment is a translucent or opaque material made from the skins of sheep, goats, or similarly small animals, that were soaked, scraped, stretched, and treated with lime or chalk until they were smooth and pliable. Vellum was originally defined as a high-quality parchment made from calves' skins. Today, however, some authorities use the terms vellum and parchment interchangeably.

Written pictures of words or their sounds. Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs and modern Chinese characters are examples of pictographic script.

A flat plate of metal that presses the paper onto the form.

Platen press
A press that has a flat surface bearing the paper, which is pressed against the flat-inked plate.

A religious journey to a shrine or sacred place.

A hard metal rod with a letter or other character carved backwards on its end. The punch would be driven into a matrix, a piece of softer metal that would take a forward-facing impression of the punch's letter.

Punch matrix system
A method of type-making that uses a punch, matrix, and mold to create large amounts of identical pieces of type.

Gatherings of groups of pages into sections, which are then sewn together on one side to form a book.

Recto and Verso
Recto refers to the right-hand page of an open book. The back of that same page, the left-hand page of an open book, is the verso.

A rebus is a puzzle where syllables or words are represented by pictures or individual letters.

Rotary press
Invented in 1844 by Richard Hoe, a rotary press prints on paper when it passes between two cylinders; one cylinder supports the paper, and the other cylinder contains the print plates or mounted type. The first rotary press could print up to 8,000 copies per hour.

To paint or print headings or initial capitals in red.

Rubric or Rubrication
Rubrics are the handwritten titles, chapter headings, and instructions that are not part of the original text but are added to aid the reader in identifying these elements. The term is derived from the Latin word for red, rubrica, as often, rubrications appear in red to be easily distinguished from the text.

In Latin, scriba means keeper of accounts or secretary. A scribe is a professional copyist of manuscripts and documents.

Scriptoria (sing. Scriptorium)
Large monasteries had rooms called scriptoria where monks would copy manuscripts. One such room is called a scriptorium.

Silk Road
The Silk Road was an ancient trade route between China and the Mediterranean Sea, extending some 6,440 km (4,000 mi) and linking China with the Roman Empire.

In a set of type, one or more of a particular letter or character.

In ancient times, a stylus was a pointed writing tool used to inscribe wax or clay. The Sumerians used a wedge-shaped stylus for their cuneiform writing. In the medieval period, a stylus was a pointed writing tool used for ruling a manuscript.

Small blocks of metal or wood with raised letters, figures, or punctuation on them used for printing.

The word has the same origin as veal or veau in French (vitellus in Latin), and is the writing surface made from cow skin. Vellum was originally defined as a high-quality parchment made from calves' skins. Today, however, some authorities use the terms vellum and parchment interchangeably.

The left-hand page of an open book is the verso. Recto refers to the right-hand page of an open book.

Watermarks are designs pressed into handmade paper by a decoratively shaped bent wire placed in the bottom of a papermold. As the paper pulp drained, the shape would be pressed into the paper along with the lines of the wire mesh. Watermarks were used to identify paper produced from various mills.

Images or text carved on wood. A woodcut or woodblock design would be inked and pressed or printed onto paper.