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The Social and Industrial history of Scotland, from the Union to the present time
Nineteenth Century: 12. Printing and Publishing


The rise of periodical literature and the newspaper press in Scotland was contemporary with the development of the publishing, bookselling, and printing trades. In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries publishing was combined with the retailing and sometimes the printing of books. The most notable of the Edinburgh booksellers and publishers in the second half of the former century were Elliot, Creech, Bell & Bradfute, Hamilton & Balfour, and James Donaldson. During the first half of the nineteenth the advent of Scott gave scope to the energies of James and John Ballantyne, Archibald Constable, and William Blackwood in the same field. Scott was, in fact, a partner in the printing and publishing business of the Ballan-tynes. In James Ballantyne's printing house (Paul's Work in the North Back of the Canongate, from which it was removed in 1870 to the Newington district), the Waverley novels were set up and printed by the hundred thousand, in addition to an ever increasing volume of miscellaneous literature. "In 1822 no fewer than 145,000 volumes issued from the Ballantyne Press, all from the pen of Scott—an extraordinary number of volumes in those days of hand presses; and this leaves out of reckoning work done for other authors and publishers." Constable and Blaekwood also enjoyed the distinction of publishing some of the anonymous works which were taking the world by storm, though their author quarrelled with both of them. The disaster which befell James Ballantyne and Archibald Constable in 1820 and involved Scott in the tragic, but heroic task of the closing years of his life of toiling to pay off Ballantyne's creditors, who, in virtue of his partnership, were also his, left the house of Blackwood supreme among the Edinburgh publishers for the time being. About the same time the brothers Chambers founded the publishing business which has done so much for the diffusion of knowledge among the people. Another of the same type was founded about the same time by Mr Nelson, who had started as a bookseller in 1798. Other prominent firms maintained the earlier reputation of the Scottish capital as a publishing centre, notably those of A. & C. Black, who in 1827 acquired from Constable's Trustees the copyright of the Encyclopaedia Britannica—the first edition of which had been published by William Smellie in 1771—and that of Scott's works in 1851; T. & T. Clark, who started the famous series of translations of German theological works; Edmonston & Douglas, the latter editing, as well as publishing, Scott's Journal; Oliver & Boyd, Oliphant & Co. More recently the Edinburgh publishing trade has tended to migrate to London, and while some of the leading publishers, like the Messrs Black, have removed their business thither, others, like the Blackwoods, have established branches in the British metropolis.

The abolition of the newspaper stamp duty in 1855, the duty on advertisements in 1854, and the duty on paper in 1801, by cheapening the price and increasing the circulation of books and journals, had a quickening effect on the printing as well as the publishing trade. In this industry Edinburgh took the lead, not only in Scotland, but in Britain. "For many years," says Mr Strachan in The Scottish Bankers Magazine (October 1911), "Edinburgh has been looked upon as the seat of production of the finest book printing in the world; and, in support of this statement, it may be mentioned that a considerable portion of Edinburgh's costly book-work comes from England. The greatest London publishers have nearly all their best work printed in the Northern capital; and it is no exaggeration to say that to a large majority of the reading public the fact that a book bears the hallmark of a leading Edinburgh firm lends additional value to its possession. Cheapness cannot explain the partiality of London publishers to Scottish workmanship, although it might be admitted that by employing female labour the Scottish firms gain an advantage over their southern competitors. But the cost of carriage and other items would certainly swallow up any saving made on the printing expenses. Again in the case of many publications it is impossible to estimate, even approximately, what will be their ultimate cost. These things considered, it may safely be assumed that the secret of our printers' renown lies in the artistic beauty and accuracy of their productions."

The oldest of the existing firms is that of Neill & Co., which dates back to 1749, and was at first known under the name of Hamilton & Balfour. Those of Oliver & Boyd, and Pillans & Wilson have also survived from the eighteenth century. Among the more important of those established in the nineteenth are, besides the Blackwoods, Ballantyne & Co., and T. & A. Constable, R. & R. Clark, and Morrison & Gibb. The growth of the industry has also been greatly accelerated by the remarkable improvement in the machinery for printing newspapers and books. The progress of newspaper printing is strikingly represented in the case of the leading British newspaper, The Times. At the beginning of the nineteenth century the hand press in use was of cumbrous construction, and printing was a slow and laborious process. Up to 1814 twelve hand presses, working at the highest pressure, were required to print an edition of 10,000 copies of The Times between 12 at midnight and 0 a.m. The application of steam to the press greatly increased the output, and two steam driven machines, contrived by Koenig in this year for Mr Walter, proprietor of The Times, produced 1,100 impressions per hour. The improvement is thus described in an article of the issue of 28th November, 1814. " After the letters are placed by the compositors and enclosed in what is called the " forme," little more remains for man to do than to attend upon and watch the unconscious agent in its operations. The machine is then merely supplied with paper, itself places the forme, inks etc, adjusts the paper to the form newly inked, stamps the sheet, and gives it forth to the hands of the attendant, at the same time withdrawing the form for a fresh coat of ink, which itself again distributes, to meet the ensuing sheet now advancing for impression, and the whole of these complicated acts is performed with such a velocity and simultaneousness of movement that no less than 1,100 sheets are impressed in one hour." The Koenig machine was modified and improved by Messrs Applegarth & Cowper in 1827 so as to print from 4,000 to 5,000 copies per hour. The next improvement was the substitution for the flat or plane "forme," containing the type to be printed, of a curved or rotary form by attaching the type to a cylindrical surface. The idea had occurred to William Nicholson in 1790, but it was first successfully applied by Applegarth in 1848, who by this contrivance increased the output of The Times to from 10,000 to 12,000 per hour. Further improvements, including the curved stereotype plate of the type to be printed (stereotyping having been invented by William Ged, a goldsmith of Edinburgh, in the eighteenth century and perfected by Tilloch and Foulis of Glasgow), and the printing of both sides of the sheet simultaneously, were made in 1808 for the Walter Press by Messrs MacDonald & Calverley. Another improvement was the substitution for the hand setting of type of the Kastenhein and the Wicks composing machines, with their later developments, the Linotype, the Monotype, and the Singertype. The Walter Press gave place in 1895 to the Hoe machine, and later the Goss machine, which are capable of turning out 150,000 folded copies of The Times per hour.

The large Scottish newspapers have not lagged behind The Times in the adoption of modern machinery. In the composing room of The Scotsman, for instance, thirty-two Linotype machines produce seventeen columns of type per hour. The stereotype plate is made and printed within ten minutes after leaving the composing room. In the machinery hall five Hoe presses of varying capacity, driven by electricity, are capable of printing, cutting, folding, and counting 174,000 copies of a twelve page paper in an hour. The proprietors of the Glasgow Herald, who first adopted the Hoe machine in 1870, introduced in 1911 a double sextuple Hoe press, capable of printing, cutting, folding, and counting 120,000 copies of a twelve page paper, and 00,000 copies of one of twenty-four pages, per hour.

A large variety of these fast printing machines have been contrived for book and general printing, as well as for the production of newspapers, and the revolution which their invention and application have wrought in the printing trade has been taken advantage of by Scottish printers. In Scotland the first steam printing machine was introduced in the establishment of Messrs Ballantyne about 1817, and to Mr Thomas Nelson is due the credit of inventing the model of a rotary stereo press, which was exhibited by him in the International Exhibition of 1851. An idea of the progress in the printing art in Edinburgh may be best formed from a comparison between the daily routine in Ballan-tyne's press in the early years of the nineteenth century and that of a modern up-to-date Scottish printery. Entering the long case room in Paul's Work in, say, the year of Waterloo, "one would find," to quote from The Ballantyne Press, "about thirty or forty compositors, busily dipping their fingers into cases of types—spelling, capitalising, and punctuating line after line from the manuscript or 'copy' before them—amidst the joke and chaff flying among themselves, and the noisy hammering of wooden 'mallets' at the imposing tables or 'stones' down the centre of the room, on which the 'formes' of type were being corrected and got 'ready for press.' A second case room, with about twenty men, was on another, higher flat; adjoining this, in course of time, was the stereo room.

"Beyond the long case room, on a slightly different level, was a fairly large room, partitioned off like so many sentry-boxes, occupied by that much maligned, but indispensable class, the printer's readers, each with his attendant satellite or 'devil.'

"While the formes were being prepared for the press, the damping room below was called into operation. It was here that the paper to be printed was damped, in order that it might take on better the impression from the type. This process is now almost abandoned, except in the case of some special make of paper, as printing papers are now made with a texture that does not require damping. In the early days of Paul's Work, however, it was very necessary.

"The formes of type and the paper being ready, the pressmen put the formes on the press-bed, and after 'making ready' the pages of type to ensure a uniform impression and colour on the printed sheet, proceeded to work off the formes. In the early days of last century, before the advent of the steam printing machine, the work of the hand pressmen must have been a constant strain on their physical powers. A 'token' of 250 sheets per hour was the ordinary output; they had to lay the sheet of paper on the tympan and roll it under the press, pull the bar to take the impression, roll back, and lift off the printed sheet— all this for 250 times an hour for ten or twelve hours each day was no light task. In those days also, prior to the invention of the hand roller, the ink had to be put on the formes of type by o means of handballs or 'dabbers,' and this, too, took a much longer time. The sheets of a book having been thus printed, either by hand press or by machinery, were next sent to the drying room, and hung over horizontal bars, one above the other, being put up or taken down by means of long peels. When thoroughly dried the sheets were subjected to a smoothing process between highly glazed boards under great pressure, and were then ready for the bookbinder."

Compare with this the marvellous daily output by means of the most up-to-date machinery in a modern Scottish book factory, as described by Mr Strachan in The Scottish Bankers Magazine for October 1911. "Inside we find two great floors, the lower mainly devoted to storage and packing. The upper floor forms one long, well-lit, and well-ventilated workroom, filled, but not crowded, with machinery. No means of propulsion is visible, there being an absence of the usual belts and shafting. Electricity is the motive power. Below the under floor is a long chamber entirely occupied with the motors, starting gear, and suetion pumps used to drive the machinery above.

"We next pass into a small room off the great hall. Here a handful of men sit before seeming typewriters. By depressing the keys the operators punch in rolls of paper two holes, which, according to their position, represent the character required. These perforated rolls then pass through the casting machines, currents of air controlling the casting of the letters which the holes represent. Long columns of new type are rapidly formed, which are removed to be proved, corrected, and made up into pages. The speed of these machines, as compared with hand setting, is enormous and, in consequence, much more economical. The pages then go into the stereotyping department, where casts are taken from the type, and the printing 'plates' made, which arc beat into semi-cylindrical shape.

"At one end of the upper floor room are ranged in line six rotary machines of the type usually used for newspaper printing. Behind these runs an overhead railway, which carries to each press gigantic cartridges of paper. The plates having been placed in position on the cylinders of the machine, a touch sets the huge 'rotary' in motion, and at one revolution of the two cylinders a sheet of 96 pages is instantly printed on both sides. This sheet is automatically cut from the roll, a set of blunt knives descend, and the sheet is folded into those neat signatures the size of the book to be. A signature, it may be explained, is a section of 16 or 32 pages. A complete book consists of so many of these sewn together. Each machine prints three signatures, and each book consists of three to six workings, so that as many machines are simultaneously producing the signatures of one book. As the piles of these rapidly grow they are placed in long troughs down which they are slowly carried on endless chains. En route they dry, and the various signatures forming the complete book are collected together in correct order and conveyed to the sewing machines, which seize them and do the rest of the work automatically.

"The work now begins to resemble a book, but the edges are rough, and it has no cover. A guillotine trims the edges, another machine rounds the back, and still another glues on a lining of 'mull.' The coloured frontispieces are then pasted in. . . .

"Meanwhile, in another corner of the building, the cloth cases have been prepared. Case-making machines are marvels of ingenuity. A roll of cloth passes over a gluing roller, strawboards fall into their places on the glued cloth, the paper that lines the back attaches itself; the cloth is cut, and the edges dexterously folded over the edges of the boards. Gold-leaf is laid by hand on the back of the cases, which are then rapidly struck with their design and title. At the casing-in machines book and cover are swiftly attached, after which they are placed under hydraulic pressure in order that any tendency to curl may be overcome. Released from this, they are returned to the ever-moving troughs and conveyed to 'chutes,' down which they fall to the packing room below.

"A factory such as that described produces two volumes in three seconds, or nearly 120,000 per week. About 350 miles of paper, 15 miles of cloth, and 5 miles of strawboard are consumed in the manufacture of this quantity."

Glasgow comes next to Edinburgh as a printing and publishing centre. From the end of the eighteenth century printing developed into a large industry. The University Press, started by the brothers Foulis about the middle of this century, "in the course of a few years," in the words of Dr Murray, "made Glasgow printing famous throughout Europe." "I read Homer," said Gibbon, "with most pleasure in the Glasgow folio." "The work so auspiciously begun by the brothers Foulis," continues Dr Murray, "has been carried on by a succession of excellent printers, and the Glasgow press is now no inconsiderable factor in book production in the United Kingdom. The printing and distributing of books in numbers was not commenced in Scotland until about 1706, but quickly developed, especially in Glasgow, where at one time five-sixteenths of the trade was carried on." Among the more notable of the Glasgow printers in the nineteenth century were the Duncans, Blackie & Son (formerly Kuhll, Blackie & Co.), Collins & Co., MacLehose & Co. (the University Press), Wardlaw & Cunningham, McCorquodale & Co., Hodge & Co., Chapman & Duncan, Orr & Sons, Lumsden & Son, W. & D. Mackenzie. Blackie, Collins, and MacLehose also developed an extensive publishing business, and among other publishing firms may be mentioned those of Fullarton & Co., Smith & Sons, Lumsden & Son. The practice of selling books in numbers was first started in Glasgow by Fullarton, and was developed by the Messrs Blackie, and by W. Mackenzie. It is significant of the extent of the Glasgow printing and publishing trade that no fewer than five of the Lord Provosts of the city during the nineteenth century were printers and publishers, viz., James Lumsden, father and son; Andrew Orr, John Blackie, and William Collins.

Type founding also became a considerable branch of industry in Glasgow from about the middle of the eighteenth century, when Alexander Wilson set up his type foundry in the village of Camlaehie, and cast the types which made the brothers Foulis famous. In the nineteenth century, the firms of Hutchison & Brookman (University printers), Prentice & Co., and D. Macbrayne & Stirlixig (Macbrayne of subsequent Clyde steamboat fame) acquired prominence as type founders. The allied industry of engraving and lithography owed much to the fine workmanship of Joseph Swan in the middle of the century, and the firm of Maclure, MacDonald & Co. has long carried on an extensive business as lithographers and lithographic printers.


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