block book. Before and after the invention of printing from movable types in the mid-15th cent., some books were printed in Europe from engraved wooden blocks, with one block for each page. This method was developed by the 9th cent. A.D. in China. The practice has a richer history in the East than in the West since the number of characters used in Chinese writing made printing from movable type exceedingly difficult. Chinese and Japanese illustrated block books are often beautifully printed in colors. European block books, on the contrary, were crude and inexpensive. They were, however, the first examples of printed book illustration in the West. The best-known block book is the Biblia pauperum [poor man's Bible].
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.