Take a look at the paper this article is on. Now look at its font. Printed words, whether in a daily newspaper or a college textbook, are often taken for granted. But how were they made when that technology was first invented, and what did they look like? What about where these books were printed?

Watermarks from Venice Exhibit

Mon. thru Fri. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. until June 30
Special Collections Library, 7th floor Hatcher Graduate Library
Free

Hatcher Graduate Library’s “Watermarks From Venice Exhibit” aims to answer these questions and more through a display that features actual artifacts of printing done in Venice during the second half of the 15th century, as well as books from the University’s Special Collections Library’s vast collection produced during that time.

Starting in the latter half of the 15th century, Venice was the place to be for the printing industry. Printers were coming in from all over Europe to be a part of what was happening in the water-filled city.

Assistant librarian for Shapiro Science Library and coordinator for the theme semester, Rebecca Hill, said this exhibit fits well with the overall theme of Winter 2011 — water.

“When people think of Venice, they think of canals and gondolas even if they’ve never been there before,” Hill said. “Water is a part of its history. When people think Venice, they’ll think water, so we wanted to highlight the role books played in the city.”

After being approached by Hill to create an exhibit that incorporated water and special collection books, Outreac Librarian and Curator for Special Collections Library Pablo Alvarez put together the “Watermarks” exhibit.

“It’s a nice experience to have all these different media on display to learn about how this technology worked,” he said. “Until you understand how much is involved in making a whole book, it is very difficult to visualize what is really in play and involved before printing any book.”

There are four different Venetian printers represented in the exhibit, all of which brought something new and innovative. One of them integrated printed graphics that were usually hand-colored. Another included highly detailed woodblock ornaments around the text. A particularly inventive printer developed the idea of a small pocket-sized book as well as the font now known as italics.

The focus of the display is to illustrate what the printers were able to do to make their work reach millions rather than displaying the actual information presented in them.

“The exhibit is not about the content of the books,” Alvarez said. “It’s about the production of them, how printers and publishers played a very important role in the dissemination of ideas.”

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