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.
A small collection of photos from the LIFE Archives, taken by Thomas Mcavoy, show the sheer awesomeness of librarians.
Pictured in 1951 drying out state library books damaged by fighting the Lewis Cass State Office Building fire in Lansing, Michigan; it was quite the undertaking.
The fire was started by a 19 year-old Naval Reservist who feared being sent to war in Korea and thought that “a little fire” would gain him the probationary status he coveted.
The 1951 disaster destroyed much State property, including some government records. The fire proved an object lesson on the importance of record keeping.
Many documents were unrecoverable and proper inventories didn’t exist.
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).”
Read on via Unseen Hands: Emily Faithfull.