Samuel Hartlib, (pictured above) who was exiled in Britain and enthusiastic about social and cultural reforms, wrote in 1641 that “the art of printing will so spread knowledge that the common people, knowing their own rights and liberties, will not be governed by way of oppression”.
For both churchmen and governments, it was concerning that print allowed readers, eventually including those from all classes of society, to study religious texts and politically sensitive issues by themselves, instead of thinking mediated by the religious and political authorities.
It took a long long time for print to penetrate Russia and the Orthodox Christian world, a region (including modern Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria) where reading ability was largely restricted to the clergy.
In 1564, a White Russian brought a press to Moscow, and soon after that his workshop was destroyed by a mob.
In the Muslim world, printing, especially in Arabic or Turkish was strongly opposed throughout the early modern period (printing in Hebrew was sometimes permitted).
Indeed, the Muslim countries have been regarded as a barrier to the passage of printing from China to the West.
According to an imperial ambassador to Istanbul in the middle of the sixteenth century, it was a sin for the Turks to print religious books.
In 1515, Sultan Selim I issued a decree under which the practice of printing would be punishable by death.
At the end of the century, Sultan Murad III permitted the sale of non-religious printed books in Arabic characters, yet the majority were imported from Italy.
Jews were banned from German printing guilds; as a result Hebrew printing sprang up in Italy, beginning in 1470 in Rome, then spreading to other towns. Local rulers had the authority to grant or revoke licenses to publish Hebrew books.
It was thought that the introduction of the printing medium ‘would strengthen religion and enhance the power of monarchs.’ The majority of books were of religious nature with the church and crown regulating the content.
The consequences of printing wrong material were extreme. Meyrowitz used the example of William Carter who, in 1584, printed a pro-Catholic pamphlet in Protestant-dominated England.
The consequence of his action was torture and hanging.
The widespread distribution of the Bible ‘had a revolutionary impact, because it decreased the power of the Catholic Church as the prime possessor and interpreter of God’s word.’
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
The picture above is of a small shop and the owner in Newport, United States.
The wondrous days of letterpress magic and it worked. Inky, greasy, frustrating hot metal I loved it. We all did.
When you walked through the door you knew you were home.
Above: One of my absolute pet hates was your leading hand, clicker or foreman hanging over your shoulder giving you absolutely annoying and crappy advice.
Above: And finally, the Toowoomba Chronicle, Aussie east coast provincial newspaper, in the late 1880s.
Note that the lads always had their photos taken dressed up looking like Toffs.