Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Publishing with Paper & Ink

Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Susan reports:

My last visit to Colonial Williamsburg this spring happened to coincide with the American release of Apple's new iPad, the electronic device that has all of publishing holding their collective breaths. Worry not: a lengthy discussion of how exactly the iPad and other e-readers will ultimately change our concept of books has no place here in our small, historically nerdy-girl world. But as I stood in the printer's shop at CW, my head spun with the enormous difference between Now, and Then.

In the 1770s, the printer owned the actual printing press and the business. The printer oversaw the business, taking orders as well as editing the copy, and often even writing it as well. In the case of newspapers, the printer's duties could also include choosing which articles to "borrow" from other papers (for this is well before copyrighting) and selling and writing advertisements and public notices for lost property.

All printed matter began with movable type, one single cast-lead letter at a time. The best type was Dutch or French, and costly enough that an average printer set each page or signature at time, ran off the number of sheets required, and then broke up the type to reuse it. The compositor arranged the type and each page's layout; this required both skill and literacy as well as an "eye," especially since everything was done entirely in reverse. The pressman was hired more for brawn than brains, working the heavy wooden press and making the impression into the paper. Together the pair created the printed page, but even working as a team, it wasn't a speedy process. Setting type for a single newspaper page could take twenty-five hours or more; for the single page of a book, composition could take six hours.

Six hours! And that didn't preparing the paper, inking the type, making the impression, or drying the sheets, and it certainly didn't include the cutting, trimming, stitching, and binding that were part of the bookbinder's trade. (See here for more step-by-step information about 18th c. printing.) As I watched the demonstration, I thought of this blog, and how quickly I can "publish" my writing for readers by way of Blogger. In less than an hour's time, I can write a blog, choose and size my illustrations, "compose" it, and then with a single ink-free finger, distribute it to all of you around the world. What 18th c. printer could even conceive of such a luxury?  Or, in turn, how can I imagine reverting to such a laborious and time-consuming process?

But there was one distinct part of the CW printer's shop that felt exactly the same: the owner of the shop in the 1770s was a woman – the wonderfully named Clementina Rind.

Interested in reading an 18th c. newspaper like the one being printed on the press in Colonial Williamsburg, above? Here are all the issues of The Virginia Gazette from 1774, page by page.


Mme.Tresbeau said...

Whenever I see another story about e-books, I worry for books. E-books will have their place, of course, but nothing will replace the feel of a good, real book in the hands. I do however much enjoy receiving the History Girls each morning!

Rowenna said...

Something else that hasn't changed--people are still eager for books in whatever format--they would spend hours setting type in 1775 and will spend hundreds on ereaders to make their reading more convenient and portable in 2010. I think that bodes well :)

Emma J said...

Do you know if anyone has written a book about Clementina Rind? Sounds like she'd have an interesting story. I like reading about every-day women's lives in the past.

Unknown said...
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Anonymous said...

You will find as much as anyone has written about Clementina Rind in the chapter devoted to her in Leona M. Hudak's book Early American Women Printers and Publishers, 1639-1820.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Many thanks for suggesting this book, Anonymous. I'm going to have to add this to my own wish list, too.

Finegan Antiques said...

People's needs have pretty much remained the same over the years. The thirst for knowledge, food, clothing oneself, transportation are just a few. It is how those needs are met that changes over time. Take the preparation of food. We have gone from eating our food raw to cooking it over an open fire to zapping it in a microwave. Evolution.It's thrilling but at the same time scary.


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