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
“For my part I deem those blessed to whom, by favour of the gods, it has been granted either to do what is worth writing of, or to write what is worth reading; above measure blessed those on whom both gifts have been conferred”–Pliny the Elder.
Johannes de Kehtam’s Fasciculus Medicine (printed in Venice in 1500) was the first anatomy book to be printed with illustrations.
Ketham was described as a German doctor living in Italy and may well have been Johann von Kerchheim, a German practising surgery and medicine in Venice during 1470), and who wrote a series of tracts on various aspects of medicine which were then collected into this single bound volume.
The illustrations are spectacular and to me have a very modern sensibility in their mid-Renaissance woodcut legacy–the look very clear and concise, are well proportioned, nicely labelled, and give plenty of free rein to open and blank spaces on the woodblock.
The only time these images really “fail” is when they appear in colour–a process that would’ve been undertaken privately, by the purchaser of the book, who would have contracted with an artisan to colo r the book.
The images in almost all of the cases of colouring that I have seen just do not match the elegance and brilliance of the original with no color.
Source for all images: NATIONAL LIBRARY OF MEDICINE,
Hand-coloured woodcut in a vellum copy of Wynkyn de Worde’s Book of Hawking, Hunting, and Heraldry (Westminster: Wynkyn de Worde, 1496), g3v.
In the background is Sopwell Priory, a cell of St Albans Abbey, where Juliana Berners was prioress. JRL 19668.
The small market town of St Albans in Hertfordshire, 25 miles north of London, was the site of the premier Benedictine house in the British Isles during the Middle Ages.
The Abbey of St Albans supported numerous trades, especially those involved in the town’s main industry, the manufacture of woollen cloth.
There was a weekly market and three annual fairs, which attracted buyers and sellers from all over Hertfordshire and from London.
The Abbey’s prosperity and importance led to the establishment of a printing press in the buildings of the Abbey’s gatehouse in c.1479, making it the only religious house in pre-Reformation England to run an independent printing establishment.
Volunteer Ted Leigh demonstrates how the 1886 Columbian Press was used to print newspapers. (Photos by Mark Lorenz for the Boston Globe)
The Columbian press was invented by George Clymer, probably in 1813, inspired in some measure by the earlier Stanhope press.
It was designed to allow large formes, such as a broadsheet newspaper page, to be printed at a single pull.
The press worked by a lever system, similar to that of the Stanhope press and quite different from the toggle action of the slightly later English Albion press.
Clymer’s innovative and powerful combination of levers greatly increased the pressure that could be applied to the printing forme, without causing undue physical strain to the pressman.
The press was first advertised in April 1814.
Although Clymer manufactured and sold a few presses in America, he found the market difficult and moved in 1817 to London, where he began a successful manufacturing programme that lasted well into the twentieth century, initially with operations at 1 Finsbury Street, London.
In 1830, Clymer joined in a partnership with Samuel Dixon, trading as Clymer, Dixon and Co and moving down the street to 10 Finsbury Street, London.
Clymer pursued various business partnerships between 1830 and 1849 before dissolving the partnership; in 1851, the business was taken over by William Carpenter, the first of many takeovers.
Nonetheless, the Columbian press continued to be manufactured into the twentieth century and was also manufactured in various European industrial centres.
The press is sometimes, incorrectly, referred to as the ‘Eagle’ press due to the characteristic bald eagle counterweight which usually sits on the top lever.
Some Columbians have the counterweight in another form; for example, a simple ornament, a lamp, urn, or orb.