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Technologies of Writing in the Age of Print
Printing as an Incitement to Write

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Printing as an Incitement to Write

Printed blank forms

Perhaps the single most radical effect of printing was the incitement to write. From Gutenberg on, the printed forms that we now take for granted (tax forms, in particular) proliferated. Millions of indulgences were sold before the Reformation, and they provided the model for later blank forms for taxation and other government purposes, such as recording the births of illegitimate children and certifying that corpses were buried in wool rather than linen. Such forms required ever increasing numbers of people, whether professional bureaucrats or ordinary citizens, to be able to write so as to complete them. 


Printers usually took more care with blank forms to be completed by hand than in the production of books. Indentures were printed as pairs, with one copy for  each contracting party, and then cut by hand in a wavy line ("indented") to prevent forgeries, since each pair fit together in a unique way. In most forms, names, dates, and places were the crucial kinds of handwritten additions. There were also blank spaces where the genders of the parties had to be recorded. "H . . ." was to be filled in as "his" or "her" and "M . . ." as "Master" or "Mistress."


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Blank receipt. Manuscript, 1689

Indenture. Manuscript, 1696

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