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been bought by the Duke of Marlborough, after a keen competition at an auction sale in 1813, for the almost fabulous sum of £257.
It was from these early Block-books, or Donatuses, that Gutenberg, as we learn from the statement of Ulric Zell,-a contemporary, and working printer at Mentz with the original inventors while the art was yet a secret, -derived his idea of printing as at present practised.
In the words of Mr. Charles Knight, in his interesting biography of the venerable Caxton, the Father of the Art in England,—“To seize upon the idea, that the text or legend might be composed of separate letters, capable of re-arrangement after the impressions were taken off, so as to be applied without new cutting to other texts and legends, was to secure the principle upon which the printing art depended. easy to extend the principle from a few lines to a whole page, and from one page to many, so as to form a book."
Such, according to the almost universally adopted belief, were the successive steps which led to the invention of TYPOGRAPHY. And for nearly a century no one had ventured to doubt that either images of saints, or characters for playing cards, were first printed from engraved wooden blocks, as cheap substitutes for the works of the draftsman and painter; — that
that these were succeeded by subjects of sacred history with explanatory legends cut in wood, imitative of the art of the illuminator, and the caligraphy of the scribes or professional writers; that these again were followed by Donatuses ;—and that from these Donatuses, printed from solid blocks, Gutenberg obtained his first idea of the Typographic Art.
But in 1868 an altogether new hypothesis was propounded at the annual congress of the British Archæological Association, held that year at Cirencester. It was there maintained, in a paper read by Mr. Henry F. Holt, that printing from moveable types, as practised in Europe, preceded in point of time that of printing from engravings on wood.
After a careful inspection of the celebrated print of St. Christopher, in Earl Spencer's library at Althorp, he contended,—“that the date 1423 is not that of the engraving, but of the
, legend beneath it, which had been copied by the engraver, and has reference to the jubilee year of the Saint; that it has been printed by a press, and with printer's ink; and, what is more important, upon paper which exhibits the well-known water-mark of the bull or heifer's head, with a flower issuant between the horns, which was used by Faust, and supposed to have been made for him. * He has shewn, that the discovery of this supposed early engraving instigated the fabri
Paper with the same water-mark was also used by the First Printer in England. l'ide Plate IX in vol. ij. of The Life and Typography of William Caxton.
cation of several similar, which were stained with coffee to give them the appearance
age. He further maintains, that the block-books, originally, in his opinion, produced by the celebrated painter and engraver Albrecht Durer, -were cheap substitutes for the highlypriced productions of the Printing press.” And he challenges literature "to prove, that
, a copy of the block-book known as the Bib
' lia Pauperum,' was actually in any
known library, public or private, prior to 1485, or known then to be in existence.” * “ All this has," as Mr. Planché observes, “naturally aroused a host of antagonists, who have more or less courteously contradicted, without convincing Mr. Holt, by the production of any
incontrovertible fact, which would refute the evidence he adduces in support of his arguments. Alone and undismayed, he still gallantly defies all comers.”
* Letter in Builder, Nov. 26, 1870.
Guided by the test of costume,—"a test which he has never known applied in vain, when called to the assistance of the critical inquirer,”—Mr. Planché, while abstaining from the expression of an opinion upon the principal point in dispute, shews, as a matter of fact in regard to playing cards, that “with the exception of those by the Master of 1466 [an engraver only known by that designation], and a set of “tarots,” called the Mantegna Cards,* on one of which is the date 1483, all the specimens of printed playing cards that he has met with display the unmistakeable character of the fashions of Germany, France, and England, during the latter half of the Fifteenth century, and the greatest portion those of the very latest part,
* So called after Andrea Mantegna, a celebrated Italian painter and engraver, born in Padua 1431, died 1505. Cards designed and coloured by this artist are very highly prized.