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Stereotyping In America

( Originally Published 1927 )



The first printing in America was done in the year 1540 by the Jesuits in Mexico, the first book being a religious work entitled "A Manual for Adults."

The first printing press in the United States was erected and operated in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1638, under the charge of STEPHEN DAYE, and the first book he published was the Bay Psalm Book in 1640. For this press the colony was mainly indebted to the Reverend JESSE GLOVER, to whom some gentlemen of Amsterdam also gave "towards furnishing of a printing press with letters, forty-nine pounds and something more."

The first type foundry in America was established in 1735 by Christopher Sauer or Sower of Germantown, Pennsylvania. In 1775, Benjamin Franklin brought from Europe to Philadelphia the materials for a type foundry; little use, however, was made of them. Then John Baine, a Scotchman, sent tools for a foundry to this country, the business was started, but ended in 1790. In 1796 a type foundry was started in Philadelphia by Archibald Binny and James Ronaldson of Edinburgh, and in 1811 Elihu White established a type foundry in New York, D. & G. Bruce following in the same city in 1813. Binny perfected the matter of type founding of that period and his casters cast 6,000 letters per day per caster.

In 1745, an attempt at stereotype printing was made in Philadelphia by BENJAMIN MECOM, nephew of the great Benjamin Franklin. Mecom cast plates for several pages of the New Testament and made considerable progress towards the completion of the book, but he never finished it. In 1804, before the introduction of stereotyping into this country, MATHEW CAREY, the well-known enterprising publisher in Philadelphia, had the Bible in quarto set up entire, and regularly imposed in chases, to print from at convenience, according to the demand for the volume. The type was cast by Binny & Ronaldson. Stereotyping would have saved a vast proportion of the immense outlay required to carry out the scheme, which, nevertheless, even under these circumstances, was doubtless highly remunerative. The weight of type must have amounted to 25,000 pounds, to say nothing of the number of chases and column rules required.

There are conflicting statements as to whom belongs the honor of having first introduced stereotyping in America. It has been claimed that an Englishman named JOHN WATTS was the first, arriving in New York from London, and starting a printing shop at 15 Murray Street in 1809. Watts spoke French and it appears that the stereotyping process he used was a combination of the Didot and Stanhope systems. In 1812 he made stereo plates, and in 1813 a book was published entitled : "The Larger Catechism. The first book ever stereotyped in America. Stereotyped and printed by J. Watts and Co., New York. June, 1813". In 1815 he moved his little plant to 154 Broadway. 1816 his name disappeared from the City Directory, he having sold his foundry to B. and J. Collins, a couple of Quaker printers. Watts left America and was traced to Austria where from 1820 on he conducted a stereotyping shop until his death.

In 1810 the "American Medical and Historical Register" printed an original paper written by LIEUTENANT-GOVERNOR DR. COLDEN concerning a new method of printing. A letter contained in the same issue written by Dr. Benjamin Franklin to Dr. Colden attributes the new method to Herhahn of Paris. In this paper Watts is mentioned as a stereotyper doing business in New York.

From reliable (Ringwalt) data it appears to be certain that to DAVID BRUCE, a Scotchman by birth, (born 1770, died 1857) belongs the honor of introducing stereotyping into America. In the year 1812 he visited England, and be-coming acquainted with the success of the experiments in stereotyping then being made by Earl Stanhope, Bruce acquired by purchase a general knowledge of the art, and in 1813 brought it to this country. Associated with his brother George, under the firm name of D. & G. Bruce, the brothers commenced the business in the city of New York. Meeting with many obstacles in this untried mechanical business, the Bruces made the most strenuous efforts to introduce and perfect the new art. Their ingenuity, resolution, and skill finally triumphed over adverse circumstances; in 1814 the first work stereotyped in America, a New Testament, was completed.

In the year 1815, JEDEDIAH HOWE, of Connecticut, hearing of the success of the Bruce brothers in the newly-invented art, came to New York and commenced a stereotype foundry on Thomas Street. Mr. Howe obtained his fair pro-portion of the limited and uncertain stereotyping of that early day. But in the course of eight years other foundries started, and an exceedingly keen competition followed. Mr. Howe removed his establishment to Philadelphia in 1823. Lawrence Johnson was already there, having commenced a stereotype foundry about the year 1820. The publishers of Philadelphia, had previous to the arrival of Mr. Johnson, sent their orders for the few books they ventured to subject to this process to the stereotype founders of New York. Bibles and school-books were the first to be stereotyped, and then gradually came books of great and continued popularity, including the English classics in prose and verse, and the books of popular authors like Washington Irving and J. Fenimore Cooper. The slow and cautious manner, however, in which American publishers availed themselves of this new invention was rather discouraging to the new beginners. Gradually, however, the booksellers were led into stereotyping, though at first not very profitably; for the first large work stereotyped by J. Howe, for the W. W. Woodward-Scott's Commentary on the Bible, in five quarto volumes, proved so heavy an undertaking that Mr. Woodward broke down under it, and left the plates on the hands of Mr. Howe.

On the death of Mr. Howe in 1834 JOHN FAGAN, who had been employed in the stereotype foundry for some time, purchased, enlarged, and continued the establishment. Gradually the business increased, until almost every class of books was included. The cost was diminished also, as the competition of young and enterprising stereotypers caused a considerable narrowing of the profits, and induced a great extension of the new art.

Successive steps in the advancement of stereotyping contributed much to recommend its use; and even periodical journals came to be stereotyped. The rapidly increasing readers of newspapers had so multiplied the subscribers to the daily press that even the improved presses, aided by steam-power, were inadequate to the printing of the numerous impressions within a reasonable time. This necessity brought forth its appropriate invention; for now came forth Hoe's improved cylinder press, which dispensed with the flat form, and permitted type or a stereotype plate to be curved around a cylinder, and thus printed from with unprecedented rapidity. Soon the type for this purpose gave way to the stereotype plate, cast by the quick process of papier mache molding, and bent around the cylinder with certainty and facility.

The first set of stereotype casts of a Bible sent from England to Philadelphia, for one of the religious societies of that city, occupied the entire side of a moderate-sized room; and if the stereotype plates at present in the large cities were to be stored in this old-fashioned way, entire blocks of warehouses would be needed for the purpose. Celluloid stereotype plates made according to the above mentioned French Jannin process were then introduced in the U. S. A.; the plates were very thin, and blocked. In 1885 one foundry in New York, corner of Fulton and Gold Streets, made these plates. An-other one in Ohio practiced the making of celluloid plates, until a number caught fire and the plates burned up.

Before the curved stereotype plate put in its appearance, Mr. Caslon IV of the celebrated London firm of type-founders, patented type for setting around a cylinder, for rotary printing. It was one-third ordinary height, cast wedge-shaped, larger at face than at foot. It was made especially for a newly constructed press, the Nicholson cylinder press, but was never used. In 1847 Richard M. Hoe invented the type revolving press—curved saddles, fastened around the cylinder,—in which wedge-shaped column rules and curved cross rules, dashes and brasses were used. It was not a perfecting press, but was built with from four to ten cylinders, with a feeder for each. The speed was 2,500 for each cylinder.

The next step forward was the invention of making curved stereotype plates. The honor is due to an American engineer. In 1850 CHARLES CRASKE, of New York, then 28 years old, introduced papier-mache stereotyping into America. Craske cast his first curved plate in 1854 for the "New York Herald". In 1859 Dellagena had, as previously noted, produced curved plates for the London "Times", but he cast each column separately, after which they were locked on the turtles, while Craske's plate was of the entire page, identically as done at the present day. Craske cast the curved plate as follows: the mat was fastened in a casting mold or box curved to the circumference of the cylinder of the press, and molten stereotype metal (a softer form of type metal) was poured upon it. During the process the box stood upright, but while the mat was being placed into position, it lay horizontally, a swivel mounting enabling it to be readily turned.

The wet mat method of stereotyping was by this time firmly established in the United States and many were the efforts to improve, simplify or even do away with the papier-mache process. A few are worthy of mention.



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