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( Originally Published 1940 )
Surely there is no more enlightened and ennobling occupation than the combination of crafts and skills that go into the making of a book. Bookmaking is a craft-art of the purest order. The aspiration which it reflects is high. The impetus to make a book does not spring from the basic necessities underlying such crafts as carpentry, pottery, or weaving. It is free of the suspicion of ostentation which can so readily attach to silver or fine glass. It is one of the few art forms which actively propagates itself. Its product is a transmitter of democracy which must be banned or burned before a people can be enslaved in terms of ancient tyranny or modern totalitarianism. Its history in America is long and honorable, fraught with considerable richness of detail.
The initial craftsman, in bookmaking, is the author. His is a tangible craft and a technique. It can aspire to be more but cannot afford to be less, either in fiction or non-fiction. But by tradition, literary discussion falls more directly into the channels of criticism or art. It is, accordingly, the one basic aspect of bookmaking which we shall merely note in passing.
The story of the book in America begins with the printer. The first press in the English Colonies of North America was established at Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1639. It is necessary to specify "English Colonies," for fine printing was being carried out by Spanish Priests in Mexico nearly a century before the first Cambridge Press was set up.
In 1638, an English clergyman, the Reverend Jose Glover, purchased a printing press and the necessary type, with the intent of taking them to America. What his underlying pur pose may have been we don't know. It is fairly evident that he sincerely considered the value of the machine as a missionary instrument, as well as its general utility to the young Colonial Government. On the other hand, there is no reason to suppose that he was indifferent to the business opportunities of the venture. He engaged a former locksmith, Stephen Daye, as an operator, gathered up his own wife and children, and embarked for America on the ship the John. Unfortunately he died on the voyage.
Stephen Daye took over the enterprise and carried out the project of setting it up for business in the Massachusetts Colony. So far as we know, the Freeman's Oath, printed for the Govern ment of Massachusetts by Stephen Daye's press, was the first matter printed in the colonies.
The earliest extant book, and presumably the first printed in America, is The Whole Booke of Psalmes, printed in 1640. A copy of this is in the New York City Public Library, but is not in its original binding.
Apparently the second press was set up, also in Cambridge, by one Marmaduke Johnson. Some time later, with the very grudging consent of the authorities, he moved his establishment to Boston. There is some significance in this for he was, in a measure, moving beyond the bounds of religious authority which had implicitly controlled and largely dominated the use of these American presses. To a degree, however mild, Johnson's move to Boston was an assertion of the freedom of the press.
Very shortly after his move, in 1675, Johnson died. His press was taken over and continued by John Foster. In 1677 Foster printed a Narrative of the Troubles With the Indians in New-England. The volume was illustrated with a map engraved by Foster, and was something of a landmark in American book illustration.
One of early America's largest publishing projects was born of missionary zeal. It was decided, by the Church Fathers, to expedite the work of conversion by printing the Bible in the Indian tongue. The first of several editions of the Indian Bible appeared in 1663, translated by John Eliot and printed by one Samuel Green.
It becomes difficult, beyond the earliest period, to trace the record of American printers. For this purpose the "genealogical table" of American printers, plate 308, is best used. In all, during the Colonial period of America, some one hundred or more master printers were at work, scattered in various towns. In 1704 America's first "newspaper" came into being in the form of the Boston News Letter, a small sheet printed by one B. Green, the whole project headed by John Campbell, postmaster of Boston. The News Letter was printed regularly until 1776, when its career was apparently interrupted by the Revolution.
Another early figure in the field of newspaper publishing was James Franklin, brother of Benjamin. He printed the New England Courant, in Boston. Benjamin was "columnist" on his brother's paper, writing some dangerously trenchant political commentaries and satires. James Franklin was ultimately imprisoned for printing "seditious matter," which we can well suppose was of Benjamin's authorship. After his release he forsook Boston and established the first press in Rhode Island.
The first printing press in Philadelphia was established by William Bradford in 1685. The Quakers were none too pleased at this potentially dangerous instrument in their midst, especially in the hands of a non-conformist. In the very nature of the craft printers are and have always been great fosterers of dissension, since the "revolutionary" Gutenberg, who facilitated the Reformation. When Bradford took sides and printed pamphlets relative to developing schisms among the Quakers, the friction long latent between them grew to a sudden heat. Bradford finally gave up the battle, in 1693, and moved to New York, where he founded Bradford's Gazette, the first newspaper of the city. One of the important aspects of Bradford's sojourn in Philadelphia, however, had been the launching of a papermanufacturing enterprise with William Rittenhouse. The business was the largest of its day and so flourished as to place Pennsylvania permanently at the head of the paper-making industry during the early period of America.
Benjamin Franklin fared better as a Philadelphia printer. He wrote and printed and sold Poor Richard's fllmanack and a variety of other publications. His activities in American printing will be seen in a number of other instances.
The presses used in early America were, of course, those of Europe. They were of the old, slow-moving screw type, yet also of the styles beginning to employ newer and more efficient methods of leverage. Franklin tinkered with them. In a letter to a friend, ordering a press from London, Franklin begins, "If you can persuade your pressmaker to go out of his old road a little ... ," and then proceeds to specify a number of detailed, technical improvements in the mechanism.
The first press-maker in America was Adam Ramage, who began building American presses in 1800. In 1807 another American, John Clymer, made the Columbian Iron Press, a considerable improvement over the prevailing wooden presses, although not very drastically altered in mechanical principle. America contributed vastly to the rapid development of printing, and took it out of the status of a hand-craft once and for all, with the Hoe Revolving Cylindrical Press, in the first half of the 19th century.
Ink for the presses of early America was either imported from England, or mixed in the shop by the printer, using some convenient and simple formula. Benjamin Franklin was known as an expert ink-mixer and apparently supplied a good bit for the use of others as well as himself. (He simultaneously took a flier in lamp-black and related commodities.)