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The Printing and the Mind of Man Exhibition (July 16 – July 27, 1963)


Detail of cover of Printing and the Mind of Man.  Please click to see entire image.

Detail of back cover of Printing and the Mind of Man.  Please click to see entire image.

The Printing and the Mind of Man exhibition took place in London at the British Museum and at Earls Court Exhibition Centre during a period of only two weeks, from July 16 to July 27, 1963.

The lengthy and complex title of its catalogue, with an emblem and tailpiece designed and engraved by Reynolds Stone, read: Catalogue of a display of printing mechanisms and printed materials arranged to illustrate the history of Western civilization and the means of the multiplication of literary texts since the XV century, organised in connection with the eleventh International Printing Machinery and Allied Trades Exhibition, under the title Printing and the Mind of Man, assembled at the British Museum and at Earls Court, London, 16-27 July 1963. The catalogue described and illustrated with 32 black & white plates, and a color plate reproducing a page from the Mainz Psalter, more than 656 examples of printing and printing technology documenting the influence of print on the development of Western civilization. This exhibition occurred at Earls Court.  The catalogue also described, and illustrated with 16 black & white plates, an exhibition of 163 examples of Fine Printing mounted at the British Museum from July to September 1963.  At the end of their Acknowledgements on p. 9 of the catalogue the Supervisory Committee for the exhibition– librarian Frank Francis, typographer and historian of typography Stanley Morison and writer and antiquarian bookseller John Carter– stated:

"We pay tribute to the organizers of the Gutenberg Quincentenary Exhibition of Printing, assembled at Cambridge in 1940 (and prematurely disassembled because of the risks from enemy bombing). It was our original inspiration for several sections of our display, and its invigorating catalogue has been our constant friend."

Comparison of the 641 items described in the catalogue of 1940 with those described in the catalogue of 1963 show a great deal of overlap, especially as Percy Muir and John Carter, who had been prime movers in the exhibition in 1940, were extensively involved with the exhibition of 1963. The 1963 exhibition and its catalogue were, of course, significant expansions and improvements over the early wartime effort.

The 1963 catalogue was  followed in 1967 by a further-expanded larger format cloth-bound edition with a dramatic double-page engraved title by Reynolds Stone, significantly more detailed annotations, and without discussion of "printing mechanisms," entitled Printing and the Mind of Man. A Descriptive Catalogue Illustrating the Impact of Print on the Evolution of Western Civilization, compiled and edited by antiquarian booksellers and bibliographers John Carter and Percy H. Muir, assisted by book historian and writer Nicolas Barker, antiquarian bookseller H.A. Feisenberger, bibliographer Howard Nixon and historian of printing S.H. Steinberg.

This exhibition, and especially the 1967 book based on it, was, and remains, immensely influential on both institutional and private collectors of landmark books that influenced the development of Western Civilization.   

Taking place at the dawn of online searching and the ARPANET, and roughly twenty years before the development of the personal computer, this exhibition and its catalogues may also record the peak of the print-centric view of information before the development of electronic information technology leading to the Internet. The only references to computing in the exhibition and its catalogues were to Napier on logarithms, and to Leibniz's stepped-drum calculator. The exhibition and catalogues included references to the invention of radio, telephone and films, but not to television. 

Sebastian Carter, "Printing & the Mind of Man," Matrix 20 (2000) 172-180.