The Tramp Printers: Forgotten Trails of the Travelling Typographers by Charles Overbeck at Eberhardt Press.
Overbeck’s book takes a look at the rise and fall of tramp printers at the turn of the Twentieth Century.
Tramp printers were the original freelancers, traversing the country and sometimes even the world looking for work.
More often than not, tramp printers were union members. Union membership guaranteed printers a job at any shop with a union contract, allowing them the freedom to travel as well as the stability that comes with employment.
The rise and fall of the tramp printers is intertwined with the rise and fall of the bargaining power of labor unions.
Overbeck even argues that printers were integral to the success of labor unions.
Printers formed the first national trade union, the National Typographical Union, paving the way for others.
The strength of these unions delayed the modernization of the print shop, but not enough to keep the tramping tradition alive.
There were definitely a lot of ups and downs to being a tramp printer.
The job itself was not the easiest—printers worked long hours under grueling conditions, often leading to health problems.
Printing culture was also rampant with alcoholism and sexism.
The Tramp Printers tells the story of how printers have been integral to the development of literacy and labor struggles.
In a way, printers are the unsung heroes of the modern age
Detail from currently the only authenticated photograph of Emily Dickinson in existence, taken by William C. North ca. 1847 when Dickinson was 17 years old.
One of the great benefits of digitizing manuscript collections is that it enables us to view these documents in configurations that would have been difficult, if not impossible, with the original artifacts.
When users click through to the Emily Dickinson Collection within Amherst College Digital Collections (ACDC) they see thumbnail images of a dozen or more of Dickinson’s manuscripts. As they begin to scroll through the entire collection they can immediately grasp that Emily Dickinson had a very creative relationship with paper.
To achieve this same level of visual familiarity with the originals would require pulling each folder from the box, gently examining the items, then requesting the next folder from the staff at the reference desk.
Although I do not consider myself an Emily Dickinson scholar or specialist, I want to share several of the more striking examples of Dickinson’s extraordinary manuscripts.
Those interested in delving into the rich world of scholarship focused on Dickinson’s manuscript practice should consult the works of Susan Howe, Martha Nell Smith, Marta Werner, Virginia Jackson, and Alexandra Socarides, among others.
Many groups of students, scholars, and tourists visit Amherst every year to tour the homes of Emily Dickinson and her brother Austin.
Although Dickinson did lead an active life outside the home in her youth, her increasing reclusiveness in her later years give the very notion of house and home a special resonance in her work.
As such, the unusual piece pictured below is of particular interest, just one of Dickinson’s many “envelope poems” – the focus of a recent book, The Gorgeous Nothings by Marta Werner and Jen Bervin.
In this instance, Dickinson has cut apart an envelope so all that remains are the flap and a portion of the body.
She orients the paper so the point of the flap is at the top then she fills that peak with words: “The way hope builds his house…” Or, to phrase it more directly, she writes a poem about a house on a piece of paper that looks like a house.
Little is known of Faithfull’s personal life, but her record of philanthropy and activism for women’s welfare is exemplary.
The lack of opportunities for women to learn any trade or profession particularly concerned her, and led her to found the Society for Promoting the Employment of Women in 1859 and then her own Victoria Press in 1860, where she employed only women compositors.
She also hired men, both to teach the women how to set type and to do some of the presswork and lifting of heavy chases. This “mixed shop,” however, met with enormous hostility from the printer’s union, supposedly on moral grounds.
Presses were sabotaged and ink poured on the women’s chairs (Faithfull had introduced the novelty of providing the typesetters with tall, three-legged stools to alleviate some of the fatigue of standing at the case during their twelve-to fourteen-hour workday).
Nevertheless, the Victoria Press continued in operation for twenty years, producing a solid body of work, including thirty-five volumes of the Victoria Magazine, which advocated the right of women to gainful employment.
Faithfull also won the support of the sovereign, and was appointed Printer and Publisher in Ordinary to Her Majesty in 1862.
One of the most beautiful books published by Emily Faithfull is the Te Deum Laudamus. It is typical of the Victorian era in its rich colors and intricate decorative patterns. A new technique known as chromolithography, patented at mid-century, enabled printers to reproduce colors (using a separate stone for each color) more vividly than ever before.
Also notable is the way in which text and image are interwoven, sometimes to the detriment of readability. The iconography of this image was explained by Faithfull herself: “The blue and white of this Plate are the well-known colours of the Virgin; the lily is the emblem of the Incarnation, and the doves refer to the offering in the temple at the time of the Purification (Luke ii.24).”
A selection of pages from an 18th-century demonology book made up of more than 30 exquisite watercolours showing various demon figures, as well as magic and cabbalistic signs.
The full Latin title of Compendium rarissimum totius Artis Magicae sistematisatae per celeberrimos Artis hujus Magistros, roughly translates to “A rare summary of the entire Magical Art by the most famous Masters of this Art”.
With a title page adorned with skeletons and the warning of Noli me tangere (Do not touch me), one quickly gets a sense of the dark oddities lurking inside its pages.
The bulk of the illustrations depict a varied bestiary of grotesque demonic creatures up to all sorts of appropriately demonic activities, such as chewing down on severed legs, spitting fire and snakes from genitalia, and parading around decapitated heads on sticks.
In addition there seem also to be pictures relating to necromancy, the act of communicating with the dead in order to gain information about, and possibly control, the future.
Written in German and Latin the book has been dated to around 1775, although it seems the unknown author tried to pass it off as an older relic, mentioning the year 1057 in the title page.
No doubt that when these photos were made the working conditions, equipment, and so on were at least “standard” issue–nothing too fancy, nothing too crowded, nothing too dirty, nothing too rough, nothing too grubby.
The overall sense of the series of images though is definitely Grub Street.
The photos were made for the pamphlet The Party Press, 1900-1904 which celebrated the first and at the time only Socialist daily newspaper the “Daily People”, and showed the guts and glory of the Beast.
It all seems rather tatty, and soiled, and threadbare, and cramped, and probably very oily–all of this was either offset or enhanced by the fact that the newspaper was located in several floors of “a” but not “the” Flat Iron Building.
“The devotion the sacrifices the work in behalf of the maintenance of the Daily People will forever remain the brightest day in the life of the party.
On the day of its birth after a march through the streets several hundred comrades waited until four o clock in the morning to receive the first copy of the paper the first and in fact the only Socialist daily ever published in the English language.
The building situated at 2 6 New Reade Street, New York, the birthplace of the Daily People was torn down several years ago.
The party members named it the Daily People Flatiron Building and it saw many of the struggles that followed the ones of 1899.
All party institutions were housed in this building. The basement was used by the mechanical department the ground floor by the Labor News Company the party’s literature agency while the third floor was occupied by the editorial rooms.
On the top floor were the offices of the national secretary also of Section New York and the national office of the Socialist Trade and Labor Alliance.”--from Daniel DeLeon, a Symposium, published by the Socialist Labor Party, New York, 1919