Printing landmarks

Did you know the Diamond Sutra, the world's earliest dated printed book, is in the British Library? Discover this and other landmarks of printing in the Library's collections.
In 1900, at the ‘Cave of the Thousand Buddhas’ in Dunhuang, China, the world’s oldest surviving, dated, printed document was discovered: The Diamond Sutra, a scroll, block-printed on 11 May 868 (by the Western calendar). The invention of printing, which only reached the West several hundred years later, changed the way we engage with text, language and knowledge forever.  The printed collections at the British Library include some of these early, transformative texts including some of our most well-known collection items: the Gutenberg Bible, Tyndale’s New Testament and Shakespeare’s First Folio.

The Million Pagoda Charms

The Hyakumantō darani or ‘One Million Pagoda Dharani’ are the oldest extant examples of printing in Japan.

The Hyakumantō darani or ‘One Million Pagoda Dharani’ are the oldest extant examples of printing in Japan and one of the earliest in the world.

View images from this item  (1)

The Diamond Sutra

Frontispiece of the Diamond Sutra showing a woodblock print of the Buddha

This copy of the Diamond Sutra is the world's earliest complete and dated, printed book.

View images from this item  (1)

Spring and Autumn Annals

Collected commentaries on the ‘Spring and autumn annals’ - Ch’unch’u kyŏngjŏn chiphae, Seol, 1434

Anonymous Korean metalworkers of the 14th century were the world's first printers of movable type, predating Gutenberg's famous bible by over 70 years.

View images from this item  (1)

Gutenberg Bible

Title page of the Gutenberg Bible

Johann Gutenberg’s Bible is probably the most famous Bible in the world. It is the earliest full-scale work printed in Europe using moveable type.

View images from this item  (1)

William Caxton and Canterbury Tales

William Caxton's Chaucer.

Caxton was both the first to print a book in English, and the first English printer.

View images from this item  (1)

William Tyndale's New Testament

William Tyndale: New Testament.

Tyndale’s New Testament was the first to be printed in English. This is one of only three copies surviving from the 3,000 or more printed in 1526 by Peter Schoeffer in the German city of Worms.

View images from this item  (1)

Hortus Eystettensis

Hortus Eystettensis: red pepper plants

In 1611, Johann Konrad von Gemmingen, Prince Bishop of Eichstätt in Germany, determined to record for posterity the spectacular garden that he had created at his palace in Bavaria with plants from around the world. Hundreds of flowers were carefully drawn and engraved as they bloomed through the four seasons. Published in 1613, the finished catalogue was the largest and most magnificent florilegium ever made.

View images from this item  (1)

Vesalius's Anatomy

Title page of Vesalius's On the Fabric of the Human Body

On the Fabric of the Human Body is one of the most influential works in the history of Western medicine.

View images from this item  (1)

Shakespeare's First Folio

Shakespeare's First Folio - title page and introduction by Ben Johnson

The title page of the First Folio with Droeshout’s portrait of Shakespeare.

View images from this item  (12)

A Curious Herbal - dandelion

Blackwell's Herbal, page 3 - Dandelion

Elizabeth Blackwell’s beautiful illustrations of medicinal plants would be notable enough in their own right, but the unusual circumstances of their creation make them doubly interesting. She began the work to raise money to secure her husband’s release from a debtor’s prison.

View images from this item  (1)

The Kelmscott Chaucer

The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer. Illustrations by E. Burne-Jones, engraved on wood by W.H. Hooper, The Kelmscott Press, Hammersmith (London), 1896

William Morris, the 19th-century designer, social reformer and writer, founded the Kelmscott Press towards the end of his life.

View images from this item  (1)

Audubon's Birds of America

Audubon's Birds of America showing a wild turkey, plate 1

John James Audubon (1785 – 1851) was an ornithologist of the early 19th-century responsible for creating the largest and most beautiful illustrated bird book ever.

View images from this item  (3)

The text in this article is available under the Creative Commons License.