Wooden frame (170 x 300 mm., each type 6 x 5 x 18 mm.). [Korea]: Chosŏn period or early 20th century.
A forme or chase — a rectangular frame into which columns of type are locked in place for printing — filled with wooden movable type, probably from Korea and probably dating from the Chosŏn period. Each piece of type contains one Chinese character carved in relief. When used, ink would be brushed over the type vertically, and a folio sheet of paper pressed against it, thus creating an imprinted page. The page would then be folded in different ways depending on the binding. For a codex-style book, it would be folded along its center, with the touching short ends of the sheet bound together with other similarly printed and folded sheets using string. Folios intended for codex-style books normally have a marked center, which is not seen in the type laid out in our forme. The layout of our forme suggests, perhaps, that the printed folio was intended for Buddhist sutra binding, in which the page would be folded every six columns or so to assume the shape of an accordion.
The forme is a few characters short of completion. However, in actual use, it would often occur that a column of text would end partway through, for instance, at the end of a chapter or before a character raised in deference to the king or dynasty. We would thus not expect the forme to be completely full of characters for every imprint. In case the printer wanted lines (Ko.: kye, Ch.: jie 界) between the printed columns, strips of wood, possibly bamboo, would be placed between them and inked.
Movable type of the kind seen here was used extensively for printing in Chosŏn Korea and into the 20th century. The exact origins of movable type printing are disputed, but the process is described in Chinese sources from the 11th century CE. Two noteworthy aspects of early movable type printing in East Asia are its early use on the periphery of Chinese civilization, and its use for the reproduction of Buddhist texts. Thus some of the earliest extant examples of movable type printing come from the Tanguts (Xixia) around the turn of the 14th century, who printed the indigenous script used for their language, and from Korea, where printing was done in classical Chinese. A Buddhist work printed with movable type in Korea in 1377 is extant today. Movable type was later also made to print hangul, the Korean alphabet. Movable type printing in Chosŏn Korea was carried out both at court and outside it. Types could be cast in metal or, as here, carved in wood.
In fine condition.
Deuchler, Martina. “The Korean Rare Books: A Sampling.” In Treasures of the Yenching: Seventy-Fifth Anniversary of the Harvard-Yenching Library. Edited by Patrick Hanan. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard-Yenching Library, 2003.
Heijdra, Martin and Cao Shuwen. “The World’s Earliest Extant Book Printed from Wooden Movable Type? Chüan Seventy-Seven of the Tangut Translation of the Garland Sutra.” Gest Library Journal 5.1 (1992): 70-89.
Tsien, Tsuen-hsuin. Paper and Printing. Science and Civilisation in China. Vol. 5. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985.
Item ID: 9421