26 January 2009

What the Printers Guild knows

First - I'm not a Master Printer. I'm familiar with a wide range of printing and publishing technologies and a pretty extensive knowledge of the history of printing. So, understand that this is a fictionalsummation of what could feasibly be hidden in a mystery cult of printers (similar to what The Masons are to masonry & bricklaying.)

From medieval times as far back as the Incunabula (1455-1505) there has been a party or ceremony in the fall - typically October - called a wayzgoose. As it has come down to us, it was a feast given by the printer for his employees that ostensibly marked the beginning of "working by candlelight." This was also the time of initiation. New apprentices were recognized by their masters and new journeymen and master printers were recognized by the Guild. Among the masters, it was also an initiation into the mysteries of printing. It was said that a printer upon this initiation became a master of "the black arts." We have always assumed that the reference was to the black ink that printers used, but we discover that there were similar rituals and initiations among scribes for centuries before Gutenberg's inventions.

What has been passed down of the mysteries is more than how to make a printer's hat from newspaper. There is the legend that Gutenberg printed a book that contained the ancient secrets of alchemy from which the printing arts evolved. This is why Nicolas Flamel, in the encoded book he gave his son, forbade anyone but his children and scribes to read it.

Beside the heritage of Gutenberg, we also have the legend of the hidden treasure described in Aldus Manutius's "Hypnerotomachia Poliphilli." There are emerging from this, three schools of mystery: 1. the Gutenberg camp; 2. the Aldine camp; 3. those who believe either both or neither. Of course, among these, there is considerable rivalry between the Gutenbergs and the Aldines.

Other secrets of the printer's guild talk of formulae that are elixirs in the form of inks, precious metals, like silver made from lead type, and treasured volumes that have been hidden away so that libraries and museums cannot hoard them. There is much, also, regarding sign language because many deaf people work on both presses and typesetting machines. In addition to the traditional national sign lanugages, each Guild has its own secret signs.

So, we have an entire secret society made up of skilled craftsmen who consider themselves the guardians of the word and the secrets of alchemie and ancient texts, complete with rivalries between factions and secret languages.

2 comments:

Inkjet Cartridges said...
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Jason Black said...

I like it!

But I should add that it doesn't surprise me that scribes would also have had the expression "black arts." After all, the common scribing ink of the day was Iron Gall ink, wasn't it, which is black.