Hébert Labs

Library Holdings & Collections


LibraryMuch of the holdings in my library are books and documents, but not all. Below are a few of my more interesting holdings.

Measurement Instruments



Miscellaneous Items


Shuttle tileVolume source antenna

Flag flown over Independenc Hall in 1987 commemorating the bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution 

Computing Technology

Slide rule and vacuum tubesPunch cards and calculators


Medieval Manuscripts and Incunabula

Koberger 1 aKoberger 1 b

Koberger 2 aKoberger 2 b

Medieval manuscriptMedieval manuscript

Illuminated medieval manuscript aIlluminated medieval manuscript b 

The History of Printing: Manuscripts & Incunabula

"Incunabula" is a Latin word meaning, "from the cradle." Today, regarding ephemera at least, it means any document printed in the 15th Century (between a.D. 1450, beginning with the Guttenberg Bible, and a.D. 1500). In other words, those documents printed during the infancy of printing.

Of course, prior to the invention of the movable type printing press documents were written by hand. Such documents are called manuscripts.

Many manuscripts were embellished with bright colors, but a few were given special treatment. Some were embellished with silver or gold leaf. Such manuscripts are called illuminated.

Anyway, it's easy to understand why, prior to a.D. 1450, most people were illiterate. Books were labor intensive compilations and were simply too expensive for the common man.

But in a.D. 1450 a man named Johannes Guttenberg changed that and history. With his new type of printing press, Johannes Guttenberg ushered in the information age.

But did you know that Johannes Guttenberg did not invent the printing press? That's right. Printing had been around for thousands of years by the time he built his press. All he did was improve the technology by inventing movable type.

Indeed, the Chinese had been printing documents, with carved blocks, for millennia. So why didn't their printing presses change the world?

The answer is very simple. Their printing method was effectively no less labor intensive than just writing the documents by hand. Let me explain.

Written oriental languages, like occidental languages, are comprised of a relatively few elemental characters that combine to form hundreds of thousands of words. But unlike the occidental languages, oriental writing doesn't line the characters up sequentially. Oriental writing stacks the characters one on top of the other, all in a single square (or space) to form each word.

For a bit of intuitive insight as to how such a system of writing might have evolved, try reading the next paragraph. (And while you're at it, you might gain a bit of sympathy for the habitually bad speller.)

If you can raed tihs praagarph, tehn you can uendersantd why oierneatl wtrinig cluod hvae evlvoed as it did. Eevn wtih sqeunetail witrnig, the bairn srtos out the letetrs and mekas snese of the wrods.

So, even though written Chinese only uses a few elemental characters, Chinese printers had to carve each word individually. Now imagine trying to catalogue tens (or even hundreds) of thousands of word-blocks in order to use a movable type printing press.

No, the nature of their writing made movable type unfeasible. Each printed page required its own specially carved block.

Sure, once the block was carved they could print multiple copies of the same page, but only so many times before the block needed replacing. At best, oriental printing produced only a marginal increase in production efficiency over handwriting.

It's as simple as that. It was the sequential nature of occidental writing that accommodated movable type printing. And the rest, as they say, is history.