Printing Type & The "Eliot Bible"

print type
Pieces of metal printing type from Colonial Harvard Yard. Photo by Mark Craig. Left to right: PM 2007.20.385, PM 980-3-10/99588, PM 2007.20.705, PM 2007.20.385, PM 2007.20.705, PM 980-3-10/99586, PM 980-3-10/99589, PM 980-3-10/99587.

The most intriguing objects found in the Harvard Yard excavations were pieces of lead printing type dating back to the 17th century. At first glance, these lead alloy bars may not impress, but they are small pieces of an important story. Each bears the mold of a single letter. When arranged in rows, coated with thick ink, and pressed onto paper, they created the first books printed in North America. The fonts, or particular shapes, of some of these letters have been matched to surviving 17th-century products of Harvard's early press.

The "Eliot Bible
The 1663 Eliot Bible, is an original volume translated by the missionary John Eliot and his assistants. Its publication date reveals that it was prepared in the Indian College building. The book is a legacy and symbol of religious conversion, literacy education, and complex cultural relationships.

The spread of literacy should not necessarily be equated with progress. For Native communities, new skills of reading and writing (their own languages and English) challenged some aspects of oral tradition. The intertwining of written and oral communication in New England communities proves complex. The "Eliot Bible" is now used in Algonquian language revitalization programs, such as the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project.

Italic l type
Italic l type,17th century, magnified image

The Letter "L"
During a 1979 excavation in Harvard yard, a piece of printing type bearing a double pica (22 points) italic "l"  was unearthed. This type piece was used to print the preface to The Indian Grammar, a book written by missionary John Eliot in 1666.

The Letter "O"
This printing type, excavated in 1980, is a brevier (8 points) italic "o".  It was used to print the English chapter summaries in the second edition of the Eliot Bible (1685).




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