History of typography

Structures of a type
29 de Junho, 2019

“Letters have character, spirit and personality.”
Robert Bringhurst, 2005.

5,000 years ago, long before the alphabet was used, the prehistoric inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula identified the members of their elites by engraving drawings on shale plates, an original solution. And a good introduction to the more complex systems that appeared later.

What is typography?

Typography( from Greek typography – “form” – and graphin – “writing”) is the process of creation in the composition of a text, physical or digital. It has evolved since the invention of the first types, around 1450. Since then, it has become an art, studied and appreciated, in addition to being a fundamental element in the daily life of designers and graphic designers.

As in graphic design in general, the main objective of typography is to give a structural order and form to the printed communication. By analogy, typography has also become a way of referring to the printer that uses a mobile print press.

For a long time, the main means of producing books were made from handwritten manuscripts by copyists. Production was carried out manually in an extremely laborious and arduous manner. However, in the 15th century, a new phase began around the production of books, which promoted an important technical evolution for the manufacture of this material.


The invention of the types of metal furniture allowed a greater diffusion of texts, which at the time were mainly religious, legal, historical and scientific texts directly related to the public of students, doctors, religious and magistrates.


With the possibility of obtaining larger copies of the books, the material can reach not only students and teachers, but also the popular classes.


In the following century, religious printing and playing cards were printed on cloth, with the engraving of sheets of whole blocks of wood. despite this rudimentary process, it was possible to print books through single boards whose text was engraved on wood. At that time, there were also moving figures made of terracotta.

The invention of typography is not fully realized, for lack of references of the time, it is not known who invented this technique.


What can be said is that the first disc printed with mobile metal characters was the work of the German Johhan Gensfleisch zur Laden, who preferred to be called among friends “Gutenberg”, the same became famous for the printing of the 42-line bible between 1452 and 1455.

However, before becoming famous for his invention, Gutenberg was kept secret for many years, as the importance and changes of his new entrepreneurial spirit would cause changes in the Press market and could have a very significant commercial impact. For this reason, an environment of mystery and secrets has formed around the invention of typography.

According to historical reports, in order for the printers not to be discovered, their workshops were usually hidden in ruins and convents, and worked only at night. So much mystery around the technique, it appeared the belief that these workshops were conducted demonic practices and typography in its early days became known as a cursed art.

After the era of the mysteries and of the press, important changes began to occur, such as the emergence of new techniques and technologies, with more revolutionary production and reproduction systems.


It can be said that typography has established relations which, in addition to the aesthetic and economic aspects, have basically focused on technical questions.

We can conclude that the cultural progress of humanity is made by cycles, with changes in the axes of power and knowledge. The history of typography reflects these movements and has almost always been conditioned by market factors.

The copists of the Middle Ages were linked to the clergy and the production of manuscripts was determined by their members. With the rise of the bourgeoisie, new values were sought and interest in information led to a growing market of producers and consumers.

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