Simanaitis Says

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TODAY’S TIDBITS TAKE a long view on reading and its celebration of our living in one of two pivotal periods: the transition of script to print and from print to digital. 

These thoughts arise from reading Simon Schama’s review of Ross King’s The Bookseller of Florence, in The New York Times, April 13, 2021, which reappeared as “Booksmart” in The New York Times Book Review, June 6, 2021.

The Bookseller of Florence: The Story of Manuscripts That Illuminated the Renaissance, by Ross King, Atlantic Monthly Press, 2021.

Script to Print. Prior to 1450, books were laboriously scribed by people not surprisingly known as scribes. Their manuscripts have appeared here at SimanaitisSays, most recently in “A Palaeographer’s Adventure.”

Then came Johannes Gutenberg and his introduction of movable-type printing in Europe. (Bi Sheng of China’s Northern Song dynasty invented it back around 1041, but since few Europeans read classical Chinese, Gutenberg gets remembered. Besides, Gutenberg made his type of more practical metal, not fired porcelain.)

Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg, c. 1400–1468, German inventor, printer, publisher, and goldsmith.

Important though Gutenberg’s innovation was, it didn’t put Europe’s scribes immediately on the dole. The two forms of reading material coexisted for much of the 15th century. Reviewer Schama notes, “Five million manuscript books were produced in 15th-century Europe….”

Printed Books for Everyone?? Schama writes, “Lorenzo de’ Medici’s librarian Angelo Poliziano thought that print ushered in ‘the most stupid ideas,’ which ‘can, in a moment, be transferred into a thousand volumes and spread abroad.’ Lorenzo himself was so devoted to the older form that he actually reversed expectations by having printed books copied out in manuscript.”

“Woe betide the thinking world,” Schama writes, “should print find its way into the hands of the wrong people.”

Chris Columbus’ Kid. Ferdinand (aka Hernando, Portuguese) Columbus had visited the “New World,” with his father and, later, with his half-brother. Upon returning to Spain, Ferdinand chose the scholarly life. Wikipedia notes, “He had a generous income from his father’s New World demesne and used a sizable fraction of it to buy books.” 

Ferdinand Columbus, c. 1488–1539, Spanish bibliographer and cosmographer. Son of Christopher. 

Eventually Ferdinand amassed a personal library of more than 15,000 volumes, the bulk of which were printed books. “As a result,” Wikipedia notes, “the library acquired a sizable number (currently 1,194 titles) of incunabula, or books printed in the years 1453–1500.”

Today’s Print to Digital Transition. Schama observes that “For much of the 15th century, the two forms of bookmaking lived alongside each other, much as electronic and paper books do in our own time.”

I confess to being something of a Luddite in this respect, still attracted to what Schama calls “paper books,” their heft, the turning of their pages, the shelves (and piles) of their presence. I have yet to own an Amazon Kindle or any other “E-reader.”

Image from

Gee, I wonder if there’s a latter-day Ferdinand Columbus, madly accumulating scads of digital reading material, sort of 21st-century post-incunabula. Somehow, I doubt it. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2021 

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