How Bibles Were Made
(from Gutenberg until presses were mechanized in the early 1800s)
The typefoundercasts every single letter from a combination of three metals: bismuth, tin, and lead. Separate sets must be made for different alphabets—Roman, Gothic, and Greek—as well as for capital letters and punctuation marks. Most letters will wear out after being used about 30 times.
The draftsman or designermust draw everything that’s not a regular letter: fancy initial capital letters, title pages, pictures. A block cutter then takes the draftsman’s art and engraves it into wood. A sixteenth-century writer marveled that “the printed image comes out as clear as the original drawing.”
The paper makerchops up rags, soaks them, lays the soggy mess on a sieve, presses it flat, and dries it. The eventual result: smooth, white sheets. He will need to supply enough paper for the typical Bible printing of a few thousand copies.
The printerassembles the lead letters, one by one, into a complete page in a wooden frame. He then applies ink to the letters. His aide pulls the lever, and a sheet of paper is pressed against the ink. The full Bible will require composing from 800,000 to 1,000,000 words. No printer has that much type on hand, so after pages are printed, their letters are taken apart to be reused on other pages.
The illuminatorcolors and gilds any pictures or initial capitals on the printed pages. High-quality illuminators don’t sink to using stencils, which produce poorer, less valuable work.
The bookbinderuses leather, glue, stitches, and cutters to assemble and bind together the pages. Sometimes Bibles are fitted with metal clasps or gilded on the pages’ edges.