Planning to Print

Lab / Fieldbook 4


“Planning to Print”

One of the things I learned about this process and the readings we have done is that everything is so labor intensive. Nowadays, its so easy to open our laptops, open a text editing system like MicroSoft Word, type and format the way we want our document to look like, then send it to the printer, which will print it out in a couple of seconds. We buy our paper from Office Depot or other office supply stores and don’t think much about it. We can even use MarkDown to create documents, even though we have less immediate control over its formatting. However, doing the readings and working over a couple of class periods to create a postcard print has helped me understand that people had to be very creative, patient, intelligent, resourceful, and positive about the process from start to finish. The readings and in-class activity also helped me think about the relationship between each of the people involved in the process and how they all contribute to the industry and technology of papermaking and printmaking. We also learned a great deal of how women’s roles in these industries changed and didn’t change.

First, there are the papermakers, people who make the paper. We read about some women papermakers in Herman Melville’s “The Tartarus of Maids.” In that piece, we learned the women at the factory were maids. Here is a dialogue the narrator has with one of the factory managers.

“The girls,” echoed I, glancing round at their silent forms. “ Why is it, Sir, that in most factories, female operatives, of whatever age, are indiscriminately called girls, never women?”

“Oh! as to that–why, I suppose, the fact of their being generally unmarried–that’s the reason, I should think. But it never struck me before. For our factory here, we will not have married women; they are apt to be off-and-on too much. We want none but steady workers: twelve hours to the day, day after day, through the three hundred and sixty-five days, excepting Sundays, Thanksgiving, and Fast-days. That’s our rule. And so, having no married women, what females we have are rightly enough called girls.”

“Then these are all maids,” said I, while some pained homage to their pale virginity made me involuntarily bow.

“All maids.” – The Tartarus of Maids, page 13.

This quote gave us a glimpse into how women fit into one aspect of the papermaking industry. This was the very beginning of the whole printmaking process, if you could even consider this part of printmaking. Actually, I very well suppose you could, because one certainly needed a paper of some sorts to print on. Anyway, these women started off this whole process, but they were the least recognized and appreciated. The narrator goes at length about how he had a hard time even finding their paper factory. The women and their factory are tucked away to some unimportant and hard-to-find corner. What’s even more interesting is to see how women contrast with men at the time in history, at least in the context of the story.

The narrator brings up that the paper is made from the pulp of rags, some of which could have once been shirts worn by bachelors, bachelors who were well off and engaged in debauchery. Now, while not all women worked such menial jobs and were regarded as people who should be “steady workers [through] twelve hours to the day, day after day” and shouldn’t be “off and off too much,” and while not all men were debaucherous singles who spent all their time at the bar, Melville did set up this gender disparity for a reason, and that was to say that in general, that was how women fit into the industry and technology of printing at that time. They didn’t do anything that required any creativity or intelligence, nothing too technological.

So, that was what we learned about papermakers. Next up in the process, the compositing. People had to make the individual letters, in addition to all the spacers, punctuation, numbers, and other things like woodcut pictures and the like. We didn’t go too in depth into that, but I can speculate that it wasn’t that stimulating of a job to fill in molds over and over again. In the Victoria’s Press picture we examined in class today, it appeared that some man was using a hammer and chisel to do something. I speculated that he was making a woodblock, or at the very least, creating and shaping something. He wouldn’t be using a chisel if he was compositing, that’s for sure.

But for the important part, compositing. Compositing was where the roles of men and women were more fluid. In the “Women Compositors” article we read for class today, I learned that women started getting more involved with the printing process, especially within compositing. The author says,

” It was once again urged that printing by women was an imposibility: that the business requires the application of a mechanical mind, and that the female mind is not mechanical; that it is a fatiguing, unhealthy trade, and that women, being physcially weaker than men, would sooner sink under this fatigue and labor; and to these objections an opinin was added, which it is the principal object of this Paper to controvert, namely, that the result of the introduction of women into the printing trade will be the reduction of the present rate of wages.”

The author goes on to say that “either the female mind is mechanical, or that printing does not require a mechanical mind– for that women can print there is no doubt. The author also mentions that because times are changing and women are doing a great job printing, their families should “train them as they train their sons to some useful employment.”

Thus, we see here how women are getting more involved within the world of printing. We also see from the reading with Mrs. Grundy that printmaking is no longer a position to be looked down upon, but something that profitable and “a suitable source of employment.” While women are getting more and more involved with composition, men are still involved with imposition– the printing itself, things like require strength. I myself experienced from trying to print today that it takes both skill and strength to get the ink completely onto the page. I could see how from a 19th century viewpoint, people would want men to keep doing the parts of the job that required strength, and the women the parts of the job that required them to be more creative and rely less on strength and more on their minds.

This picture we examined in class today also helped me see how printer’s devils fit it. While papermakers were separated from the printmakers, the printers devils worked right alongside the less menial workers like the compositors. There’s a girl in the foreground. It almost looks like she has a goatee and mustache, and we surmised that it was ink that she had gotten on herself. Printer’s devils, like the papermakers, were the ones who really got themselves dirty. While everyone else in the picture is wearing rather nice clothes, the girl is wearing an apron and has a more work appropriate dress on. She is also the only one with her sleeves rolled up, which signifies that she’s doing a lot of messy work with her hands. I don’t see any boys in the picture, nor do I recall reading anything about them. I do know that boys were often newspaper boys throughout history. Perhaps they also did menial jobs related to the print industry, but in regards to the final product. They had to try to sell stacks and stacks of newspapers if they didn’t want to be punished.

Overall, learning about this whole process has helped me realize how collaborative of a process it was. I learned how the roles changed, particularly in regards to women. I also learned to appreciate how people printed books and newspapers during those times. I complain how about having to deal with Adobe InDesign when I layout the newspaper for my school, but it seems much easier in retrospect than printing a newspaper with my hands.