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Chambers's Edinburgh Journal Visits the The Printing Establishment of William Clowes

The April 11, 1840 issue of Chambers's Edinburgh Journal contained an article starting on p. 94 describing and commenting upon a visit to the printing establishment of William Clowes in London. I quote the beginning of the article:

" The profession of the printer has within these few years undergone a most extraordinary revolution. From being limited in importance by the feeble efforts of the hand-press, it has, under the magical influence of steam and machinery, expanded into gigantic proportions, and threatens soon to become, by the increasing appetite for its products, one of the largest branches of manufacturing industry. At no distant date, printing was on a most antedilivian scale. A dingy 'office', consisting of two or three apartments on the first or second floor of some faded genteel tenement in a faded part of the town—a half-a-dozen lads, and a few old men with Dutch spectacles on nose, planted at so many composing frames, and laboriously setting dark well-worn types—adjoining, a couple of wooden or partially improved iron presses, wrought with a world of toil and wheezing and groaning as if in the pangs of dissolution as every impression was pulled. Such was the printing-offiice of the early ages of mankind—that is to say, about thirty or forty years ago; for since these primitive times the printer's profession has advanced in the ratio of a hundred to one as compared with most other handicrafts; and we now look back to the eighteen hundred and ones and twos, as we should do to the era of Tabul Cain, the flood of Noah, or thereabouts.

"It may be a question with some, whether a taste for reading has improved printing, or improved printing has created a taste for reading. Truth is partly on both sides; but it is beyong dispute that the great movement towards a revolution in the craft was effected by the steam-press, without which any increased taste for reading could not possibly have been satisfied. We therefore rank the steam-press as by far the most wonderful engine of modern invention. England has produced nothing more splendid, as respects its moral results, in any period of its annals. yet, not to England belongs the entire honour of the discovery. Inasmuch as we owe the art of printing to the illustrious Guttenberg, a German of the Upper Rhine, so do we ascribe the final perfection of the craft to König, a German, who, arriving in London about 1804, laboured ten years in the endeavour to produce printing by inanimate machinery, and at length triumphed in 1814, by constructing a steam-press for working off the Times newspaper. Cowper and Applegath subsequently modified and adapted machinery for book-printing, and it is machines on their model, working by cylinders, of which we have now principally to speak.

"Printing has made its greatest strides during the last ten years, in which period cylindical steam-presses have been spread all over the country. Hardly a newspaper is now any where printed with a hand-press, and few or no periodical publications. The making of printing-machines has in itself beomce a great business. One maker in London lately mentioned to us that he produced a machine regularly every three weeks upon an average all year round, each at a price of about £400. Other manufacturers are similarly engaged; the machines being sent not only to all parts of Europe, but to America, Australia, and India. In a few years there will not be a civilised country of any consequence on the globe which does not possess these powerful distributors of human knowledge...."

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