The Printed Book

by Harry G. Aldis, M.A. Cambridge at the University Press 1916

Modern Books Part 1

At the beginning of the nineteenth century the process of producing the printed book differed in no important respect from that of three centuries earlier, when the art of printing was still a recent invention. Improvements in the printing press had enabled a somewhat quicker rate of impression to be attained at a less expenditure of labor, but the principle of action remained the same. Paper was still made by hand, each sheet separately in a wire mould; and type was set up letter by letter, much in the same manner as the fifteenth-century compositor was accustomed to work. The first quarter of the century saw two innovations-the steam printing machine and the paper-making machine which revolutionized the process of printing; but there was still upwards of half-a-century to wait before machinery should invade the domain of the compositor.

The printing machine invented by Frederick Koenig in 1811-14 quadrupled the hand-press output of 200 to 250 impressions an hour. In 1827 Applegarth and Cowper's new machine turned out nearly 5000 sheets an hour, and even this was soon bettered by further improvements. The abolition of the Paper Duty in 1861 was followed by the introduction of machines which printed newspapers from a continuous roll of paper; and this development has culminated in the huge machine which prints, folds, and counts a sixteen-page issue of Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper at the rate of 144,000 copies an hour.

Stereotyping, an important auxiliary to the use of machinery in printing, was opportunely revived in 1802, largely through the efforts of Earl Stanhope, the inventor of the iron printing press. The art had been discovered in this country by William Ged, an Edinburgh goldsmith, about 1727, but in his endeavors to perfect the invention he met with much opposition and discouragement from type founders and printers. He succeeded in producing only two or three books by this process, among them an edition of Sallust in 1739, and on his death ten years later his discovery dropped into oblivion. Stereotyping is the process by which metal casts are made from pages of type which have been set up and are ready for printing. Instead of being composed of separate letters, as the pages of type are, these casts consist of solid plates having the letters in relief on the surface, and in this respect they are akin to the wood- blocks from which the block-books of the fifteenth century were printed. By making stereotype plates of a work, fresh impressions can be printed off without the expense of re-setting the type. This process is, therefore, much used for books which are in continuous demand, or of which successive editions, involving few or no alterations, are likely to be called for. A further advantage is that by printing from plates the wear of type in long impressions is saved, and, also, as soon as the plates are made the type can be released for other work.