suggested reading list

There are many books on how to do hand printing, and they fall into two categories. There are the modern manuals, that treat the subject as a craft for amateurs, and are more or less light and easy to read, and there are the old printers' manuals, which were written by and for people whose whole working life was devoted to the practice of printing, when metal type and hand presses were the state of the art. The former are helpful in a direct way but somehow (to my taste anyway) rather insubstantial; effete, I suppose. The latter are voluminous, packed with detail, an enormous storehouse of information, much of which is not immediately relevant to the amateur occupation that hand printing is for us. I think they are fascinating, but to dip into rather than to read; in among the complex technical minutiae there is an extraordinary treasure of information about the working lives and practical problems of the men whose labours gave us almost all the English Literature we have. Also, if you really want to know about how to print, this is the indispensable source of information: the real thing.

In addition to this there are modern books by professional bibliographers, who write with more or less sympathy but as an academic exercise; and also peripheral works, fictions, autobiographies, accounts of visitors, that give some insight into working conditions and ways of life now obliterated. What follows is a selection; but if you want to go further, then I've included one work that has reading lists that can take you as far as you want to go.

The old manuals

The oldest printers' manual in the world is:

Joseph Moxon, Mechanic Exercises on the Whole Art of Printing, O.U.P., 1683 (University Library).

This is an extraordinary book, which tells you everything: how to construct a wooden press, how to cast type, what the customary punishments were for misdemeanours in the printing shop--everything. A classic. Most of the detailed illustrations in this manual are from Moxon.

The two best manuals available in the University Library are Hansard and Savage:

Thomas C. Hansard, Typographia, Gregg Press, 1835 University Library s z 124

William Savage, A Dictionary of the art of Printing, Gregg Press (facsimile), 1841 (1966) s Z 118

These have got in them anything you would ever need to know about hand printing. They are amazing.

There are other old manuals to be found in the Library:

John Johnson, Typographia, or the Printer's Instructor, 1824. University Library z 116.j6
John Smith, The Printer's Grammar, 1755
Caleb Stower, The Printer's Grammar, 1808
Charles H. Timperley, The Printers' Manual, 1838. Z 116

These are interesting, but the two mentioned previously are the best.

Modern Manuals

John S. Ryder, Printing for Pleasure, Phoenix House, 1955) Z 244

This is a pleasant book that explains printing as a hobby.

Lewis M. Allen, Printing With the Handpress ... a Definitive Manual, (New York: Van Nostrand, 1969) UL sq Z 244

A definitive manual it isn't, but he knows how to print. Rather too, how can I put it, arty for my taste.

Contemporary Accounts

The best contemporary account of a printer's life, far and away, is

Charles Manby Smith, The Working Man's Way in the World, Printing Historical Society, 1967. R hd 6955.s4

This, believe it or not, is a novel, written in the late nineteenth century, by a practicing printer; it is more or less autobiographical. Fascinating; depressing.


Philip Gaskell, A New Introduction to Bibliography, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1972. s Z 1001.

This is the definitive book about how printing was done. No question about it: as a survey of printing from earliest times to about 1950 it is unquestionably the authoritative overview, and based firmly on the author's own experience as an amateur hand printer. It has full reading lists that will take you as far as you need in any further work you want to do on this. I would recommend that you buy it, but unfortunately it's pretty expensive (£30.00 as of 7/10/92). Strongly recommended.

Well, alright, there have been questions: disputes about detail, really. I think it's a wonderful book.