Printers and the Pandemics, Part I
A book first published in 1721 is currently being reprinted. Since the COVID-19 outbreak in Britain, it’s been hard to get your hands on a copy of Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year.
The name Defoe may sound familiar. He’s the author of other fictional accounts of calamity and woe such as Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders. When the Black Death once again threatened the European Continent in 1721, DeFoe decided to write an account of the plague of 1665 to alert people to what was about to happen. A Journal of the Plague Year is a story of “panic buying, mysterious illness, quack remedies, and fake news.” The book is no doubt a work of fiction since DeFoe was only five years old when the plague hit London in 1665. It’s thought he used his uncle’s stories and memories of the epidemic to write the book. Some of the accounts in his work may sound very familiar to us today.
8 MUST WATCH DOCUMENTARY FILMS ABOUT PRINTING AND GRAPHIC ARTS
Here are just a few of our favorite feature length documentaries about printing and the graphic arts industry. Happy viewing friends!
The Machine That Made Us
A completely charming documentary hosted by a completely charming Stephen Fry. He, and just about everyone else in the film, aren’t afraid of hiding their absolute joy at retracing the footsteps of Johannes Gutenberg. They follow the life of Gutenberg and the many steps it took for him to turn out those famous Gutenberg Bibles. Stephen travels around the world to rediscover the art of papermaking, illuminations, and type casting (with friend of the Museum Stan Nelson, formerly of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History). A great look at Gutenberg and his press aka “The Machine That Made Us” Watch Free on Top Documentary Films
6 MUST WATCH FILMS FEATURING PRINTING
The perfect antidote to your quarantine blues! Spend your time inside with some great films about or featuring printing and presses.
Park Row 1952
The quintessential film about printing, and the only one that focuses purely on printing, a love letter to printing and journalism. To get an idea of just how into printing this film is, it opens by scrolling through an image of every daily US newspaper’s nameplate, which is quickly followed by the producer’s name in type on a composing stick held by a statue of Gutenberg. The story revolves around two rival newspapers on New York City’s Park Row in the 1880’s. The movie goes into great detail explaining print shop terminology and imagery with a young Printers Devil serving as the audience stand-in. It even features a completely fabricated, but enjoyable, version of Ottmar Mergenthalers invention of the Linotype. You should watch this film for the dialogue alone which includes gems like “There are four subjects one should never argue about; Anthropology, bird calls, romance, and, of course, Newspapers”, “Mr. Spiro, escort this wench back to her slaughterhouse before I throw her out of here right on her front page” and, the perfect pick up line for a printer, “What’s a job printer like you doing with such a big press?”
Stream on Amazon Prime
Part Four of our series on Women in Printing History
To round out our discussion of Women in Printing History, let’s take a look at a woman better known for her writing than for her printing. What started for her and her husband as a hobby turned into a fulltime publishing business. This Saturday, March 28, marks the 79th anniversary of her death.
Virginia Woolf was born on January 25, 1882. After the death of her mother, Virginia experienced her first mental breakdown. She was only 13 years old. Two years later, her half-sister and a mother figure to her, passed. Ten years later, Virginia’s father, who encouraged her to begin writing professionally, passed away, and she once again suffered a mental breakdown.Woolf was troubled by her mental illness throughout her life. These mental challenges, incidentally, were instrumental in her becoming a typesetter and printer.
Part Three of our series on Women in Printing History
Women Printers in the 19th Century
The 19th century was a difficult time for women in the printing industry. They faced opposition but also fought and won against the forces that tried to keep them down. New technologies had an enormously positive impact on the printing industry during the Industrial Revolution. This was the time of Lord Stanhope and his cast-iron press. In Europe, the flatbed printing press was replaced with the cylinder press thanks to Koenig and Bauer. And in America, Richard M. Hoe’s steam-powered rotary printing press allowed the printing of millions of copies of a page in a single day. It was during this time that Lydia Bailey took over her husband’s printing business, and its many debts, to support herself and her four children.
Part Two of our series on Women in Printing History
The Great Puritan Migration
In 1638, as Puritans continued to leave England for the new world, one particular immigrant had an idea different from all the rest. Reverend Jose Glover had a plan to bring a printing press to the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He secured passage on the ship John of London for himself, his wife and five children, servants, and household furnishings. He also brought a printing press, 240 reams of paper, and a case of assorted type. Unfortunately, Reverend Glover never lived to see his dream of setting up a print shop in the new world fulfilled. During the voyage from England, Glover contracted a fatal illness, probably smallpox, and died. Once the ship arrived at the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Reverend Glover’s wife, Elizabeth, took matters into her own hands and went to work on setting up shop. Mrs. Glover purchased a house for Stephen Day, an indentured locksmith, who was under financial contract to her husband. The press was placed in one of the rooms of this house. Most historians believe that it was in this house, in 1639, that Stephen Day and his son Matthew printed The Freeman’s Oath broadsheet. In 1640, after the printing of The Freeman’s Oath and an almanac, Stephen and Matthew began work on the first book published in the American colonies, The Whole Booke of Psalmes.
Part One of our series on Women in Printing History
From the beginning of printing with movable type in Europe, women were employed in the industry. In fifteenth and sixteenth-century Italy, there were more than fifteen female religious houses that were sites of book production. Almost two-thirds of these were located in Florence. One such location was the Convent of San Jacopo di Ripoli in Florence.
In the 1470s, a printing press was established at their house. This was only the second printing press to be located in Florence and the first to produce a substantial body of work. According to the records of the San Jacopo di Ripoli print shop, much of the convent’s typesetting was done by a nun, Suor (Sister) Marietta. During the nine years the convent was in business, this print shop printed over 100 secular and religious titles (12,000 volumes) as well as pamphlets and broadsides.
There’s so much beauty to be found at The International Printing Museum. This month we’d like to feature a selection of photographs taken of the plaques affixed to various machines and printing related equipment we have at the Museum. There’s history and stories in these metal signs.
Every faded letter, scratch and ink stain is a remnant of a time past.
Remember to Always Read the Plaque…
Last month we learned about The Graphic Effect of the Industrial Revolution and the invention of lithography. This month we’ll see how lithography had an impact on the creation of another Industrial Revelation invention, photography.
Images from Light
Nicéphore Niépce and his brother Claude were avid inventors. In the early 19th century, the brothers constructed a prototype of an internal combustion engine. Their machine was strong enough to power a 2,000-pound boat upstream on the Saône River in eastern France. On July 20, 1807, the brothers were awarded a patent for their invention, which was signed by Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.
The Graphic Effect of the Industrial Revolution
The world was an exciting and engaging place during the Industrial Revolution. In the 18th and 19th centuries, both Europe and America witnessed the creation of some amazing inventions. During this time, Eli Whitney invented the modern cotton gin, Thomas Saint designed the sewing machine, and James Watt created the world’s first efficient steam engine.
These inventions led to the development of still others, several of which had an effect on the printing industry. The steam engine, for example, helped Friedrich Koenig and Andreas Bauer to invent the first steam-powered rotary printing press. This press used a rotating cylinder rather than a flat surface, as Gutenberg designed.
This invention was not without controversy. Samuel Smiles, in his book Men of Invention and Industry, reported that the pressmen at the London Times, where the new press was located, heard rumors about the steam press and “vowed vengeance against the inventor and his invention, and that they had threatened destruction to him and his traps.” Their trepidation was warranted due to the fact that this first “modern” newspaper press was five times the speed of what came before it.
Mr. J. Walter, proprietor of the newspaper, warned the pressmen against using any violence and offered to assist those whose jobs would be lost due to the new technology. This compromise led to the printing of the first newspaper on a steam-powered cylinder press during the early hours of November 29, 1814.
When is a Book Not a Book?
What makes a book, a book?
Must a book contain a story?
Must there be multiple pages, bound together?
Must it be hand-held?
Does a portable electronic device count?
Is an audiobook a book?
Is a book of stamps a book?
What about a record of financial transactions as in, the company’s books show a profit?
Are any or all of these considered books?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary has 18 different definitions for the word “book.” The first two are what most of us perceive as a traditional book.
- A set of written sheets of skin or paper or tablets of wood or ivory
- A set of written, printed, or blank sheets bound together between a front and back cover
In my earlier posts, The History of the Book, part 1, and The History of the Book, part 2, I discussed books that adhere to these traditional definitions. In this post, we’re going to explore what may be considered an unconventional view of the book.
The History of the Book, Part 2: Saint Patrick
When most people think of Saint Patrick’s Day, they think of shamrocks, green beer, and parades. When I think of Saint Patrick, I think of monks, monasteries, and manuscripts.
You may be surprised to learn that, if not for Saint Patrick and the monks and missionaries that followed him, civilization as we know it may not exist.
To understand this, we need to look back 2,000 years to appreciate the impact of the Roman Empire.
The Roman Empire
Long before the birth of Saint Patrick, the Roman Empire ruled most of the known world. At its peak, the empire reached from Britain into most of Europe and extended into the Middle East and North Africa.
While the Romans, like the Greeks before them, relied heavily on an oral tradition, they were also literate people. An empire the size of Greece or Rome needed written laws and codified business practices. Thus, the Greeks and Romans kept excellent written records. These were written on clay and wax tablets, and on papyrus. Here’s a section of Aristotle’s Constitution of the Athenians.
The History of the Book, Part 1
When we think of Gutenberg, we think of books. His invention of the adjustable mold and his use of metal alloys allowed for the mass-production of movable metal type. This invention, combined with his use of oil-based ink and a wooden printing press, led to the first printing of the most read book in the world, the Bible.
While it was Gutenberg’s system that made it economically viable for printers to mass-produce books, the concept of the “book” pre-dates Gutenberg by thousands of years.
The Printing Museum Recognizes It’s Docents of the Year
Looking Forward to 2019
With the celebration of Ben Franklin’s 313th birthday this week of January 17th, a week traditionally known as International Printing Week, this is an excellent opportunity to reflect on the achievements of the International Printing Museum this last year and our goals and aspirations for 2019. We think of the Printing Museum as the West Coast home for Ben Franklin, Printer!