AN INCIDENT OF THE INVENTION OF VAN EYCK PRINTING
JAN VAN EYCK'S discovery of the special properties of boiled oil had far reaching effects, and among them was its contribution to the development of modern printing, with all its consequences.
In studying the life of Gutenberg, it seems significant that he is credited simply with the fact of having separated the characters of the alphabet, which made possible the composition of words. If the discovery of printing consisted in nothing more than that, then it would be surprising that Europe had waited so long for the achievement. Actually things must have happened quite differently.
At the end of the fourteenth century, Marco Polo brought certain prints back from China, also the wood blocks from which the prints had been pulled, but although he had these blocks and the prints themselves as a guide, apparently the colored inks used on them remained the secret of the Chinese. Like so many other properties used in an original process, this secret to was lost in time, and so completely, that after a certain period, even in China, there could no longer be found any new prints with the beautiful quality of the ancient inks.
The idea of printing must have tempted many a mind in the early part of the fifteenth century when so many discoveries were being made. But as we explained earlier, raw oil (which was the only oil in use then except that cooked with resins) formed halos when applied to the surface of paper, and also penetrated its depth, making it useless as a medium for Printing ink. The story, therefore, seems to go like this: the Europeans knew about printing from wood blocks before 1400, though they had not the means to achieve it. Van Eyck made his discovery about boiled oil in 1410, but did not