7 Year Tea Party Winners: Susan Craft's winner of her trilogy novels - The Chamomile, Laurel, and Cassia is: Lucy Reynolds, The winner of a copy of The Backcountry Brides is: Tammy Cordery, the winner of a silver quill charm is: Kathy Maher, Choice of one of three books by Carrie Fancett Pagels in paperback: Joy Ellis, A Bouquet of Brides Collection by Pegg Thomas winner is: Becky Smith, Janet Grunst's Selah-Award winning novel, A Heart Set Free, is: Sherry Moe.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The 18th Century Printing Press by Amber Perry

18th century printing press

Oh, the glories of modern technology. Information is everywhere, and we can access it as easy as turning on our phones!

Well, back in the 18th century they did not enjoy such luxuries. To produce books, newspapers and other such means of education and information, the work was long, tedious and often backbreaking. On a recent visit to Colonial Williamsburg I took particular interest in the printing press. I am truly amazed at what people did day-in and day-out to make sure that the people of the colonies were well informed.

This was no cake walk! Typically a print shop would employ two to three men, but if it was small, the work could be done with one person--it just would take a very long time. The "compositor" gathered the type and arranged it in composing sticks and then into galleys, the "beater" would spread the ink--a mixture of varnish and lampblack--over the galleys, and the "pressman" would pull the lever once the carriage (the place where the galleys were secured) was ready to go. A lot more work than just sitting at a computer, huh?

Still want to know more? Or perhaps you think you could do this "easy" job, huh? OK! Let me show you what it takes to print only ONE page using 18th century technology, and when we're through, tell me if you still want to take up this all-important trade!

Step 1: Gather your letters

Ever wonder where we get the terms "upper case" and "lower case"?
Well, in the top case are the capital letters and in the lower are, well, the
lower letters. *grin* Once you have the letters you need, you can fill your composing sticks.
Remember to put all the letters in backwards so you can read it correctly when the print is done. 

Step Two: Fill the composing sticks and set them in the galleys. 
This job often took hours. A printer's day was not easy and often lasted up to 14 hours or more.

So, you've filled all the composing sticks and placed them securely in the galleys. Good work!

Step Three: Get your paper. 
Now, the paper a printer used had to be damp--not dry--to allow the ink to adhere properly. So, the printer had to wet all the paper before he used it. It needed to be just damp, not dripping, so he would wet the papers in a large vat of water, take out the stack and let it sit, until the papers reached the right dampness. Just another step in the process that seems insignificant, but is very important.

Hold your paper carefully. Since it's wet, it is more likely to tear--and we don't want to waste.
 Next, secure it in place.

Step Four: Cover the galleys in ink.
As stated, there were different types of inks used, but the ink of choice was typically varnish and lampblack.
Inkballs were used to adhere the ink to the galleys--this was the "beater's" job.

Make sure when you apply the ink, to cover all the letters evenly.

Step Five: Move the carriage under the platen and pull on the lever.
What's a platen? Oh, that's the thingy that goes up and down and presses the paper to the ink-covered galley. *wink*

Close the paper over the galleys, then move it under the platen and pull!! You will
need a strong upper body to do this all day long.

Step Six: Remove the paper
Wow! Finally, a printed page. Now, you get to do this over and over again until your newspaper is finished . . . 14 hours later. *yikes*

You should be very proud of yourself!

But, your work is not yet done. The paper--not to mention the ink--is still damp and needs to dry so it won't smear.

Step Seven: Hang the paper over the ropes near the ceiling (make sure the fire is roaring nicely during cooler months) and wait until its dry to remove it.

These are the ropes for you to hang your finished product on. Just make sure
that the fire in your fireplace is roaring nicely. That will help the drying go faster.

So, what do you think? Would this have been your trade-of-choice? Personally, I would have loved it! (And yes, woman were known to work in print shops, though not as a general rule. In case you were wondering . . .)

I hope you have enjoyed your tour of the 18th century printing press. Thank you for joining me!

What did you think? If printing isn't your forte, what trade would you have chosen?


  1. I think I would rather be a spinner of fine yarns during this time period. I am learning on a drop spindle but desire a wheel. I am going to read that article now, thank you for sharing on this and so many good things in history.
    Linda Finn
    Faithful Acres Books

    1. Hi Linda! Thanks for your comment! :) I would love to learn how to use a drop spindle--and a wheel! LOL
      Thanks again and God bless!!

  2. Thank you for a very interesting post, Amber. We take so much for granted don't we? The use of word processors, and then computers has been great for wordsmiths. What makes me laugh was that originally it was said that this modern technology would lead to saving paper.

  3. Whenever I learn more about this trade, I am always amazed at the effort and time that went in to it. It was such tedious work!

  4. Wow, that looks like it was a tough job. No, I don't think I would have done this one. :) I have no clue what I would have wanted to do back then!


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