History of Lettering printing printing presses

Wharfedale cylinder press: a note

The development of cylinder presses was largely driven by the growth in circulation of newspapers during the early nineteenth century, and primarily The Times of London. The cylinder machine itself was the brainchild of German printer Friedrich Koenig, who patented the first model in 1811. (See here for a previous post about Koenig.)

James Moran in his Printing Presses (Faber & Faber, London, 1973) notes that during the late 1820s this newspaper installed a machine designed by Augstus Applegath that could print at a rate of 4,200 impressions per hour. This machine, a four-feeder, was steam driven, 18ft high by 14ft long, with type travelling ‘to and fro almost the whole length of the machine below four impression cylinders grouped together, and the form was inked on each journey by four sets of composition rollers’ (ibid, 1973, p.129). Whafedale from James Moran[Note: the first steam-driven Koenig press was installed at The Times, in secret, in 1814, printing the first issue for the November 29th edition. It is worth noting how secrecy was employed to prevent a walk-out by the pressroom, much in the same way that Murdoch moved the print operations of The Times and its associated News Corp papers to Docklands in 1986-1987.]

My recent visit to Dorrigo, northern NSW, Australia, revealed a wreck of a Wharfedale, another cylinder press, though one more modest than the Applegath model. The photo here (including a rare shot of the author) was taken outside the town’s museum where the remains of the once glorious machine now sit rusting. Wharfedale press in Dorrigo

Moran notes that the predecessor of this type of press was built in the mid-1850s, with the Wharfedale  being developed by Samuel Bremmer, a North Country of England journeyman according to Mason who rose to become printing manager at a London firm, and William Dawson, a joiner and cabinet maker of Otley, Yorkshire, England in the valley of the river Wharfe – hence the name. Look closely at the side panel of the press in Dorrigo and that’s exactly what you still see proudly displayed in raised letters.wharfedale detail

Moran writes: ‘[The Wharfedale] Basically…consisted of an impression cylinder mounted on parallel side frames, a bed which, with the ink slab, moved to and fro, carrying the cylinder in gear one revolution, when travelling outwards, and leaving the cylinder stationary on returning, in order to admit the sheet being laid into the grippers for the next impression’ (ibid, 1973, p.135). Over time the principle was taken up by a number of other manufacturers, hence the name Wharfedale became generic.wharfedale top view

This skeleton drawing is from Modern Printing, a handbook (vol 2, 1913, p.55). Whafedale Elliott & Co

To see one at work follow this YouTube link to the wonderful site of the National Print Museum, Ireland. One interesting point to note – the paper sheets were fed by women employees after make-ready had been completed, by a man.


Elements of Lettering lettering, typography, alphabets, stonework Thoughts on lettering typography

Fit to be styled a typographer

So wrote Simon-Pierre Fournier (1764) in his Manuel Typographique, a phrase deeply admired by Vincent Steer who I have briefly mentioned previously in the pages of this blog (see here). Steer Steer pic was by training a compositor and as Moran writes in ‘Fit to be styled a Typographer’: A history of the Society of Typographic Designers, 1928 – 1978 sought to be ‘acknowledged as a typographer’.

Let Steer put it his own way (from Printing Design and Layout: The manual for printers, typographers and all designers and users of printing and advertising): ‘A layout which is intended for submission to the customer must, in the first place, be carefully executed. While there is no need for meticulously finished lettering, it should convey a very near impression of the final result in type.’ And he gives this as an example.

Vincent Steer

Vincent Steer_0001

This is an art long lost.

Steer was a founding member and past president of The Society of Typographic Designers, now the ISTD.

History of Lettering printing

Koenig, Bauer, John Walter, James Moran (and Uncle Tom Cobley and all)

This being Sunday I feel slightly preachy. That being said today’s text is taken from Stan Morison’s The Typographic Arts (Sylvan Press, 1949). Stan writes: ‘…John Walter, with Koenig and Bauer, proved at the office of The Times  what could be done for printing by driving the press by steam. This was the greatest revolution in printing since Gutenberg’ (p.39). Quite a statement and one that sent me to James Moran’s magnum opus, his superb Printing Presses. History and development from the fifteenth century to modern times (Faber and Faber, 1973). If you do not possess a copy and  have a passion for printing then source a copy at your earliest opportunity – you will not be disappointed. (I bought my edition from a bookshop in Cambridge, UK, back in the 1980s, as new, and for 15 pounds sterling.)

Moran notes that Friedrich Koenig (born 1774) came up with the idea of a mechanised press in 1803 when he was in Saxony. Nothing came of the idea (Europe was rather taken up  with wars at the time), so he came to London where he contacted some printers in Fleet Street. It was here he joined forces with Andreas Bauer, an engineer. By 1811 a machine had been built using the conventional platen process. While this worked the principle, writes Moran, was a ‘dead-end’, pushing Koenig to the cylinder, a patent being sought in October of the same year. For those into minutiae, ‘sheets G and X of Clarkson’s Life of WIlliam Penn, volume 1, were the first ever to be printed by a cylinder flatbed machine’ (p.106). Interestingly, the rollers were leather-covered since composition rollers were still being developed around this time. While the press could produce 800 impressions an hour one newspaper proprietor, James Perry of the Morning Chronicle,  was not impressed leaving the field open to the entrepreneurial John Walter. He ordered two machines stipulating that ‘none were to be sold during the life of the patent within ten miles of the City of London’. In a subterfuge  that would later also be adopted much later by another Times proprietor currently in disgrace (Mr RM formerly of Australia), Walter had the first machine installed in secret in a building adjoining the print works – it was here that the issue of 29 November 1814 was printed, to the surprise and frustration of the pressmen working on the old machines. These machines cost plenty – by comparison a Stanhope went for 95 pounds; the Koenig double cylinder for a princely 1400 pounds.


Pulling together some threads at a minor milestone

This being the 250th blog, I’ve taken the opportunity to look back over the past year or so to tease out one or two themes, chief of which continues to be the spectre of Eric Gill. (Remind me to write a piece on Eric Gill Exposed, Sinner not Saint or, An Unapologetic Critique of Gill.) So, if Gill figures large and is also a subject to which visitors to this site often refer, it is appropriate also to mention Stanley Morison. The two knew each other, rubbed shoulders so to speak, but came from quite different points of view. Morison, the ‘radical’, flirtatious Communist/Marxist (this was the 1920s-1930s) and Catholic convert did much to push Gill forward through promotion of his typefaces when he, Morison, was at Monotype. Yet they were both outsiders, while at the same time, and this is common among the solitary, both wanted to belong (more so in Morison’s case as he curried favour with Beaverbrook, accepted honorary doctorates and the like). Morison was not a great typographer but he was a good historian of typography and did much to promote good printing through a large chunk of the middle-20th century. (For more see James Moran’s excellent Stanley Morison: His typographic achievement. 1971. London: Lund Humphries.)

I dug out his First Principles of Typography, what is called a ‘slim volume’ (24 pages), so slim it was clinging to Barker’s  fat biography of the man, and read again the postscript, written in 1967, the year of his death. It’s worth a look.

Here’s some: “The typographical activity, like architecture, is a servant art. These are arts, which, by their nature, are predestined to serve civilisation…Even so, the analogy between the work of the architect and the typographer must not be pressed too far. It is still necessary for typographers to think for themselves. The idea prevalent in some fin de siecle  quarters that style is superior to thought, is a heresy, or should be, and not only to the typographer. For him as a designer of books…he must possess…a clearness of understanding of specific purpose and a governing sanity of reasoning power…Tradition is not well understood at the present day in some quarters. If it were a reflexion of the stagnation or prejudice of past ages of printers, little attention need be given to it by historians and none by practitioners of the arts and crafts. But tradition is more than the embalming of forms customary in the states of society that have long since cast aside. The sum of experience accumulated in more than one man’s lifetime, and verified by succeeding generations, is not to be safely discarded. Tradition, therefore, is another word for unanimity about fundamentals which has been brought into being by the trials, errors and corrections of many centuries. Experientia docet.”

Cut that in stone: Experientia docet. Experience is the best teacher.