Caslon Analytics elephant logo title for Print profile
home | about | site use | resources | publications | timeline  spacer graphic   blaw


















related pages icon


section heading icon     the printing press

This page considers the press as a book and journal technology.

It covers -

section marker     introduction

The history of the printing press is one of sporadic improvements in productivity that reduced labour requirements (ie the number of people, skilled or otherwise) to print a page and the time taken to print that page.

The first printing presses typically involved work by two or three people in inking the type, placing a sheet of paper on the platen, screwing down the press to make the impression, unscrewing the press, removing the paper and starting again. Work in setting up the type required additional time and was a matter of skill rather than strength. For around 200 years after Gutenberg print runs were accordingly small - typically between 120 to 300 copies for a book and up to 600 copies for a journal, although a single page flyer or pamphlet might be produced in larger numbers - and with some 200 copies of a sheet being printed each hour.

Improvements in the design of manually-operated presses from the 1760s preceded the development of steam-operated rotary presses, which essentially transformed printing from a handcraft to an industrial activity. Innovations by Richard Hoe (1812-1886) in the rotary press and continuous roll double-sided printing for example permitted output of 8,000 sheets per hour in 1846, with the main constraint being the speed at which type could be set. That was addressed through technologies such as Ottmar Mergethaler's Linotype device of 1886.

section marker     studies

William Peterson's Modern Fine Printing site offers electronic access to basic documents on British and American fine printing, particularly William Morris and the Kelmscott Press. James Moran's Printing Presses: History & Development From the Fifteenth Century to Modern Times (Berkeley: Uni of California Press 1978) is a major study.

For the steam age see 19th Century Printing Practices (New Castle: Oak Knoll 2004) by Gabriel Rummonds. For an early account consult Joseph Moxon's Mechanick Exercises on the Whole Art of Printing, first published in 1684 and edited by Herbert Davis & Harry Carter (London: Oxford Uni Press 1962).

Richard Huss's The Printer's Composition Matrix: Its History & Development (New Castle: Oak Knoll Press 1985) is a definitive study of one of the tools.

section marker     museums

Among archival and museum resources Luc Devroye's typographic portal is a comprehensive link-farm, complemented by the Association of European Printing Museums (AEPM).

The St Bride Printing Library in London is a specialist reference library with a world-class collection covering printing, paper, binding, graphic design, typography, illustration, publishing and book-selling. 

In Australia the more modest Melbourne Museum of Printing (MMP) at Footscray is worth a visit.

The UK Printing Historical Society (PHS) publishes an authoritative journal and bulletin. 

The American Printing History Association (APHA) was founded in 1974 to encourage study of printing history and associated activity, including typography, papermaking, bookbinding, illustration and publishing.

     next page  (paper and binding)

this site
the web


version of December 2005
© Bruce Arnold | caslon analytics