Movable metal type part 2 – the move to Lead

Hangeul typeBy Matthew Jackson

After the invention of movable metal type, the next stage in the evolution of printing in Korea was improving the type itself.

The era of Gutenberg (1397~1468) and his achievements in Germany interestingly coincided with the life and reign of King Sejong the Great (1397~1450) in Korea. Not only were a large number of books printed during his reign, covering diverse subjects including Confucianism, Buddhism, Literature, Education, Law, Agriculture, Medicine, History, Music, Mathematics, and Astronomy, but the design of the typeface was also developed, in order to improve the appearance of the text.

A page from the Sinpyong Umjong Songri Kunso Kuhae, printed with Kabin type in 1444
A page from the Sinpyong Umjong Songri Kunso Kuhae, printed with Kabin type in 1444
The Kabin font (left), cast in 1434, became the most popular type of the Choson period (1392~1910), and was re-cast more than seven times before the 20th century.

A noteworthy feature was the alloy technique used to make it. According to Professor Sohn Pow-key of Yonsei University, the strength of the brass used in the casting of the Kabin font was comparable in strength to the metal used in present day naval artillery.

The next stage was to create a type that was lead-based. Lead has a low melting point, and cools quickly, which is an advantage when making large-type letters. Working with it was difficult, however, and required a detailed understanding of its properties.

One of the books printed using this type was the historical work, Chachi Tonggam Kangmok. The work consisted of 294 volumes, each 76 pages in length. King Sejong ordered around 600 copies of this book to be published. At a total of over 12 million pages, this was a remarkable achievement.

Lead-based type is regarded as the father of modern type in the academic world. As with Hangul, the primary motivation behind the invention of Pyungjin type was one of social welfare – to make larger typefaces for the elderly and those with failing eyesight.

The Chachi Tonggam Kangmok was printed in 1438 with Kabin (smaller letters) and Pyungjin (larger letters) type
The Chachi Tonggam Kangmok was printed in 1438 with Kabin (smaller letters) and Pyungjin (larger letters) type

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You can discover more about Korea’s past at kscpp.net