Celebration inks in history of printing over past 500 years

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FIVE hundred years ago, the two men behind the city's only printing press were on the verge of publishing their first book.

Now – to mark the quincentenary of the historic event – the story of Edinburgh's printing industry is set to be celebrated in the Capital with new exhibitions, demonstration classes and a memorial plaque.

The celebration is meant to show how important printing was to the city.

A researcher will also be employed to spend 15 months documenting and creating an online catalogue of the city's print and publishing collections.

The Central Library on George IV Bridge will host an exhibition celebrating the history of the popular press in Scotland, as well as a series of events for children during 2008. Smaller events will be staged in community libraries.

Museums in the city plan to hold two more exhibitions – one at the Museum of Edinburgh looking at the history of the city's printing industry, and another at The Writers' Museum, focusing on Sir Walter Scott, below.

The Cockburn Association is set to help organise an Edinburgh Printing Trail, identifying the buildings, monuments and locations of historical printing interest in the Capital.

To celebrate the anniversary of 500 years of printing, the Edinburgh Printmakers studio and gallery will run demonstration classes on the techniques used by contemporary artists and how these have evolved over the years.

In September 1507, King James IV granted a patent to Androw Myllar and Walter Chepman, authorising them to set up a printing press in the Cowgate – the first in Scotland. The pair had just finished learning their craft in France, and it was only around 50 years since the very first printing press was established by Johann Gutenberg in Germany – ending the laborious and time-consuming practice of every book being copied by hand.

The earliest known output from the Edinburgh press – a romance called The Complaint of the Black Knight – is dated April 4, 1508.

City culture leader Deidre Brock said today: "Printing, and more especially book printing, was for many years a major industry in Edinburgh.

"The city was a recognised centre of excellence for the trade, so it is fantastic that this is being celebrated by so many Edinburgh organisations."

To mark the 500th anniversary of the printing of John Lydgate's Complaint of the Black Knight, there will be a dinner in the Playfair Library on April 4.

Other events will take place at the Advocates Library, which is planning an exhibition to highlight the link between the Scottish printing trade and the practice of law in Scotland.

The city's College of Art is also set to host events, while a series of lectures and conferences are to be held throughout the year at various venues. The city council, which was urged to get involved in the celebrations by former Lord Provost Eric Milligan, is considering placing a memorial plaque in the Cowgate on the approximate site of the first printing company.

Cllr Milligan, who worked in the printing industry as a teenager, said: "Edinburgh is a special place, and one of the reasons for that is because it became a great centre of printing and publishing. Edinburgh was ahead of the rest of Scotland."