The first metal type of the world belongs to the creation of the Korean nation.

It is associated with the history and culture of Koryo, the first unified state of Korea. In the course of uninterrupted, intensified survey and excavation of historical sites and remains a metal type was unearthed in 1956 at Manwoltae in Kaesong, Korea, where the royal palace of the Koryo dynasty stood. Another one was dug out in November 2015, which is 6mm high, and 13.5mm long and 14mm wide on the side of an embossed letter; the back side of it has a semi-globular gouge.

Metal types unearthed in Manwoltae and Jikjisimgyong printed with metal types.

Metal types unearthed in Manwoltae and Jikjisimgyong printed with metal types.

In mid-April last another four metal types were unearthed in the area west of Manwoltae. They are chik meaning the water flowing, jo meaning wine lees, myong meaning name and another myong meaning bright eyes. The one meaning bright eyes is smaller than others, and the other three letters are of the same size as those discovered earlier. The calligraphic style of letters jo, chik and myong (name) are almost the same style as those letters found before, and they are considerably delicate and elaborate.

Typical of the metal-type printed books which still remain are Nammyongchonhwasangsongjungdoga, a Buddhist book printed in 1076, and Kongjagao in 1317–1324.

The earliest record on the metal type ever found is Tonggukrisanggukjip, a collection of works written by Ri Kyu Bo (1168–1241) who was a famous literary man in the period of Koryo. It gives the fact that 28 copies of Sangjonggogumrye (50 vols.) which describes in detail about state and social regulations of Koryo, regulations on etiquette in particular, were printed with metal types in the period of 1234–1241. Koryosa (History of Koryo) writes that the feudal government of Koryo established a publishing office between 1047 and 1083 which was exclusively in charge of metal type printing. This means that the Koreans invented and used metal types in the late 11th century–the early 12th century.

According to a record, metal types were invented in the Netherlands in 1423 and in Germany in 1450. The invention of metal types in Koryo proved to be 200 years earlier than the European ones. In 1972, the exhibition History of Books was held in Paris, France, as an event of the Year of International Books under the sponsorship of UNESCO. On display at the exhibition was the second volume of the Korean history book Paegunhwasangchorokpuljojikjisimcheyojol (abbreviated as Jikjisimgyong), and it was recognized as the first material printed with metal types in the world. The fact that the book was printed with metal types is to be verified through the statement written in its last chapter that it was printed with types made by casting metal at the Hungdok Temple, a Buddhist temple in Chongju, North Chungchong Province, in July 1377.

Through the exhibition it was recognized that the Korean nation invented the metal type for the first time in the world.

Ri Yong Sik, PhD in History,

Kim Il Sung University