Liturgical texts had rubrics with instructions for priests, for example, and calendars included ‘red-letter days’. The first book with colour printing was the first book—some copies of the Gutenberg Bible (c.1455) have red text—but the first instructions for printing in colour (text in red and black) appeared nearly 250 years later, in Joseph Moxon’s Mechanick Exercises (1683). Due to the absence of textual sources, the understanding of how these colours were printed has been based on visual analysis of the printed texts themselves and traditional hand-press techniques.
It has long been accepted that inserts called ‘frisket sheets’ were essential, but their construction and use in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries could be only hypothesized until 2000, when Margaret Smith identified a fragment of a sixteenth-century frisket sheet for printing in red. In 2014, Elizabeth Savage published two dozen others in 'Red Frisket Sheets, c. 1490-1700: The Earliest Artefacts of Colour Printing in the West', Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 108/4 (Dec 2014): 477-522. Others have since come to light, and the growing corpus is described in this periodically updated supplement. It includes all early modern frisket sheets that are known as of the date of publication.
Like the St Bride fragment, many of these sheets bear traces of three unrelated texts. First, they were manuscripts or printers’ waste (c.1100-1700). Then, the individual sheets were inserted into the friskets of printing presses to produce a second text (c.1480-1700). Finally, the materials were used in the bindings of a third publication (c.1480-1700). As they were used as frisket sheets over centuries in many areas over centuries, their common features revise the understanding of how texts and images were printed in colour throughout the hand-press period. Together, they indicate a previously unknown system of material exchange within the book trade across early modern Europe.
If you have come across one that you would like to add to the corpus, or if you would like to be notified when the list is updated, please contact Elizabeth Savage at firstname.lastname@example.org.
-----. (as Elizabeth Upper), 'Red Frisket Sheets, c. 1490-1700: The Earliest Artefacts of Colour Printing in the West', Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 108/4 (Dec 2014): 477-522. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/681568
This research was supported by the New Scholars program of the Bibliographical Society of America and the Mark Samuels Lasner Fellowship in Printing History, American Printing History Association.