A printer, of the Letterpress Variety

Type In Stride


After approximately 20 seconds working on a simple, 2 sentence quote from Douglas Adams in a moderately calm and moderately temperate classroom at 2:00, I immediately felt a massive surge of sympathy for people like Ben Franklin, who must have been working in significantly worse conditions.

Not to mention all the diseases running rampant back then, mucking everything up.

So, in honor of Ben Franklin, I would like to consider in considerably more depth what life must have been like; when one must work for exceedingly long hours at “an old shatter’d press” like what Keimer had.

The Horrors of the Time

Despite all that I’ve said, it seems that Franklin had it the least rough. His role seemed relatively stable, doing odd jobs here and there, like printing money. And yet there were so many other parts that seemed so frighteningly abusive. For example, the entire Melville article, where women literally worked until their “face[s] pale[d] with work, and [became] blue with cold.”

Paper required a lot of effort be siphoned out of it, and stood to continue to slowly press women into a job “unfitting young men” or however the more affluent printers would have called it back then.

Not to say that women didn’t have a role in the more affluent parts, that is. Werner would be quick to show the history of her article’s main focus, The Mothers Legacie, To her vnborne Childe, a book which was interesting because, as Werner puts it, “a woman wrote it, a woman published it, a woman speculated with it, and a woman printed it.” This argument doesn’t really fly for me. Women were known to be writers by this point, if not published much, and the only real reason that it seems that the book fell into the hands of these women were through the deaths of their husbands, and the Widow’s Ownership of the printing houses. It is a fantastic source of the role difference that may have began slowly creeping into America, but that wouldn’t really take anchor until around 1940 with WWII, so I’m still not quite buying it. It seemed like quite a negative time for those women, and slaves, and anybody who didn’t really own the printing shop, or multiple printing shops.

And, good lord, does that make me appreciate old, printed literature so much more. Both my experience desperately trying to juggle type, and knowing how much actually went into every single inch of the paper makes me want to revere it as a work of art, even if it was manufactured in a factory. The Industrial Revolution seemed to poke it’s head into Literature as well, much to my chagrin, though being its precursor.

Why Does this Matter?

Well, it’s simple; the books of this time were separated. The Manuscript Era died with the printing press, and now there were only manuscripts and printed book. The thought process, likely, became much different when it came to what books were “printable” and what books were not, as it was no longer the Scribe or the Church who decided what deserved to be redeemed. As Gitelman noted in her section about Job Printing, it seemed that most printers went where the money was, changing the context to focus more on whatever publisher had enough money to give to the Press. Even newspapers and book-shops had job shops to the side to make sure they could capitalize on some capital. Literature seemingly became a more capitalist enterprise with the printing press, though on the bright side, it did become significantly less expensive to become a “published author” so… Good on them.

It also seemed to spark The Enlightenment, since people were able to get their common knowledge from somewhere that wasn’t the church, and there could be conversations around specific objects that someone from California and someone else from Georgia had gotten, which was almost the exact same. It was so much easier to spread cultural beliefs and works of science than it used to be, which is incredible, and likely changed the course of history forever.

Was it Worth it?

In my opinion, yes. Despite the terrible atrocities that occurred during the Printing Age, I believe that the Printing House’s evils were necessary to curving technology and information into a higher-influence cycle. Should we consider the terrible labor that was described by Melville, or how trade literature made it so that the most important literature was dictated less by content and more by monetary gain? Yes, but in the end, the Printing House was a curve both necessary and inevitable, leading into new roads of knowledge and the Industrial Revolution.


“Beginning” The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, by Benjamin Franklin, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005, pp. 7–57.

Gitelman, Lisa. “Print Culture (Other than Codex): Job Printing and Its Importance.” Comparative Textual Media: Transforming the Humanities in the Postprint Era, by Katherine N. Hayles and Jessica Pressman, University of Minnesota Press, 2013, pp. 183–197.

Meville, Herman. “The Tartarus of Maids.” The Tartarus of Maids.

Werner, Sarah. “Finding Women in the Printing Shop.” Wynken De Worde, Wordpress, 10 Dec. 2015, sarahwerner.net/blog/2014/10/finding-women-in-the-printing-shop/.