Early Printing in Korea - 4.1 Metal Movable Type Casting

이동: 둘러보기, 검색
Understanding Korea Series No.2
← Previous Early Printing in Korea Next →
4. The Invention and Development of Metal Movable Type Printing 1) Metal Movable Type Casting 2) Metal Movable Type Typesetting

Korea’s metal movable type printing technology has been recognized as a renowned cultural heritage worldwide, celebrated by the entire world. The irregularities found in the type pieces reveal that the technology at the time was yet to be perfected, and indicate the limited resources of the local Buddhist temples where they were cast. However, the true beauty of world’s oldest extant metal movable type print lies in its importance in cultural history, rather than the physical beauty of the print itself.

The printing technology of Baegunhwasangchorokbuljojikjisimcheyojeol (the Hymn of Monk Baegun and Identification of the Buddha’s Spirit by the Practice of Zen), the only physical metal movable type print of the Goryeo Dynasty still extant, had been handed down to the Joseon Dynasty, and became the foundation for the improvement and development of consequent metal movable types such as Gyemija, Gyeongjaja and Gabinja. The recent discovery of Jeungdogaja has aroused keen interest among the scholars.

There are several known traditional Korean metal movable typecasting methods: wax, sand and kaolin. Casting is done by pouring the molten substance into a mold to create the desired shape, and this method is used not only for metal but also for gypsum, kaolin and glass. Bronze, an alloy of copper and tin, is the primary metal used for the casting of metal movable type. Bronze from the prehistoric Korea is known to be an alloy of seven parts copper, two parts tin and one part zinc. A more general ratio for bronze is about 95-70% copper and 5-30% tin. Impurities such as nickel, zinc and antimony are mixed in as well but their combined amount is usually less than 1%. Copper is alloyed with tin in order to create a stronger metal, but as the amount of tin increases, the color becomes lighter and the metal becomes more brittle.

There is no trace of records about the wax typecasting method related to metal movable type. For the sand and kaolin techniques, the complete formulae are unknown, yet some fragmentary information has been handed down.

There is no record of exactly what type of casting methods were used during the Goryeo Dynasty. But Joseon is known to have used the sand typecasting method from the founding of the Dynasty led by the National Foundry, Jujaso (鑄字所). The kaolin typecasting method was also used towards the end of the Dynasty, mainly among the lay people.

According to up-to-date research, Heungdeoksaja, derived from the re-engraved edition of Baegunhwasangchorokbuljojikjisimcheyojeol, the movable metal type printing of the Goryeo Dynasty, and Jabidoryangchambeopjiphae (慈悲道場懺法集解, the Collection of Prayers for Mercy) were manufactured using the wax typecasting method. This method was traditionally used to manufacture delicate and complex Buddhist objects (佛具類). Wax typecasting for metal movable type is done by carving the letter on one side of a prepared block of beeswax, covering the carved beeswax block with a dough consisting of oto (refractory material used in making crucibles (烏土) and clay into a mold (鑄型), letting the mold dry, baking it and pouring liquefied iron into the mold. The type pieces made of this method are meticulous; however, only one type is created per inscription, making it almost impossible to recreate type pieces with identical fonts or size.

Each letter is made by pouring liquefied iron into a closed space and applying pressure on it, which in turn will inevitably melt the matrix (模本), so only one character can be made for one mold. On the other hand, complex patterns, metal objects with curves such as accessories, complicated parts of copper bells, like the dragon head (龍頭), which cannot be divided in two, may be cast into singular molds.

Wax typecasting can be summarized as follows:

  1. Select the character style and the size
  2. Make master characters with beeswax (蜜蠟父字): create the tree branch-shaped wooden mold from the character model first
  3. Make the tree branch shape with beeswax
  4. Decide on the angle of entry and passageway for liquefied iron
  5. Choose materials to be used as the clay dough (埋沒材料) (Knead the clay mixture)
  6. Fabricate the mold and melt the matrix
  7. Liquefy and pour in the iron
  8. Separate and trim the type pieces

Wax Typecasting :

Records related to metal movable typecasting methods of Goreyo are scarce, but a relatively large number of records on the Joseon Dynasty’s sand typecasting methods have been passed on. The most frequently quoted historical account in almost all researches dealing with the latter is a record found in Yongjaechonghwa (慵齋叢話, Compilation of Essays by Yongjae) written by Seong Hyeon in the 16th century.[1] This Joseon-period document is significant, since it contains a detailed record of the traditional movable typecasting process.

The typecasting process begins by inscribing various letters on a piece of beechwood. Next, soft clay mixed with sand found near the coast is spread uniformly and flatly on the printing plate (印板), and the wooden engraved letters (木刻字) are pressed on it to create impressions. After that, two printing plates are combined, and the melted copper alloy is poured into a hole so that the liquid fills in the concave section to form individual type pieces. The pieces are then trimmed several times.

The document also explains the titles and specifies the roles of the casting artisans.

ⓐGakjajang (刻字匠): the Master Wood Engraver

ⓑJujang (鑄匠): the Metal Casting Master

ⓒSujang (守藏): the Master Keeper in charge of storing and maintaining the type pieces in the warehouse (藏櫃)

ⓓChangjun (唱准): the Master Orator who reads out the original writing (書草), is usually able to decipher all the characters

ⓔSangpan (上板): the first typeset made after the master typesetter arranges the type pieces over the original writing

ⓕGyunjajang (均字匠): the Master Typesetter in charge of justifying the typeset when aligning and fixing the type pieces, by filling up the void with bamboo, wood or scrape of paper so they do not shake

ⓖInchuljang (印出匠): the Master Printer in charge of printing the embedded plat

ⓗGamingwan (監印官): the Master Printing Inspector who oversees the whole process, usually an officer from the Royal Ministry of Publication. A separate inspector, a civil administrative officer, was also appointed[2]

In the Annals of Joseon Dynasty made during King Jeongjo’s reign, an entry about the casting process of Imjinja and Jeongyuja states:[3] “in the gabin year of King Sejong’s reign (1434) (the King) commanded Kim Don (金墩) and others to melt copper and cast movable types modeled (字本) after Hyosunsasil (孝順事實, Book of Filial Piety) and Wiseoneumjeul (爲善陰騭, the Books on Merits and Demerits), commonly called Wibuinja (衛夫人字), there were 200,000 of them. During the reign of King Seonjo, these types were refurbished (重修), and when the King (Jeongjo) was still residing in the crown prince’s palace (春邸), he ordered his subordinates to amend Gabinja to cast 150,000 characters, known as Imjinja (壬辰字), and printed books such as Gyeongseojeongmun (經書正文, the Compilation of Four Books and Three Canons of Confucianism) and Gyemongjipjeon (啓蒙集箋, the Compilation of Zhu Xi’s Works) using these characters while keeping them in Ungak (芸閣, the storage at the Royal Publication Ministry). In the same year he also ordered the former governor of Pyeongan province, Seo Myeongeung, to initiate casting 150,000 characters in Giyeong (箕營) based on Gabinja, known as Jeongyuja (丁酉字).” This confirms the facts surrounding the founding of Gabinja, used the most during the Joseon Dynasty, and the later re-cast Imjinja and Jeongyuja.

The research on the sand metal movable typecasting technique is based on these original documents and is being refined as more records are confirmed. Based on up-to-date research and experiments, the process can be recreated and summarized as following:

  • The Sand Typecasting Process

UKS02 Early Printings in Korea img 108.jpg


  1. 成俔, 慵齋叢話. 卷7. ‘鑄字’條. 太宗於永樂元年 謂左右曰 凡爲治 必須博觀典籍...大抵鑄字之法 先用黃楊木 刻諸字 以海浦軟泥 平鋪印板 印着木刻字於泥中則 所印處凹而成字 於是合兩印板 鎔銅從一穴瀉下 流液分入凹處 一一成字 遂刻剔重複而整之...
  2. 成俔, 慵齋叢話. 卷7. ‘鑄字’條 刻木者曰 刻字匠 鑄成者 曰鑄匠 遂分諸字 貯於藏櫝 其守者 曰守藏 年少公奴爲之 其書草唱准者 曰唱准 皆解文者爲之 守藏列字於書草上 移之於板 曰上板 用竹木破紙 塡空而堅緻之 使不搖動者 曰均字匠 受而印之者 曰印出匠 其監印官 則校書館員爲之 監校官則 別命文臣爲之...
  3. 正祖實錄第4卷. 正祖元年 8月丙申條. 鑄字成 鑄字成 世宗甲寅 命金墩等以孝順事實. 爲善陰隲字範銅爲字 凡二十餘萬字 俗稱衛夫人字是也 至宣廟朝 重修其字 上在春邸 命宮僚 校正甲寅字 鑄十五萬字 藏于芸閣 印行經書正文. 啓蒙集箋 是爲壬辰字 是年 命前平安監司徐命膺 開鑄箕營 以甲寅字爲本加鑄十萬字以進 是爲丁酉字 至是敎曰 重臣前後勤勞甚著 從此可以壽傳 我英廟之志事於幾千百載 豈是等閒勞役之比 況有已例者乎 且此重臣 卽予春宮舊賓 今又爲同休戚之人 而至於要地 予不强勉 其宜置之閒局 前監司徐命膺特陞判中樞階 仍復除奎章閣提學.

Understanding Korea Series No.2 Early Printings in Korea

Foreword · Acknowledgments

1. Korea’s Memory of the World and Early Printing (古印刷)

2. The Origins of World Printing Culture and Korea · 2.1 The Emergence of Printing Culture and Korea · 2.2 The Development of Printing Materials

3. Woodblock Printing and Movable Type Printing · 3.1 Woodblock Printing · 3.2 Movable Type Printing · 3.3 Other Early Printing

4. The Invention and Development of Metal Movable Type Printing · 4.1 Metal Movable Type Casting · 4.2 Metal Movable Type Typesetting

5. The Publishing Entities of Korean Traditional Prints · 5.1 The Government Publications (官) · 5.2 The Private Publications

Reference · Glossary · Sources · About the Author