Robin Camille Davis
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Description of a London printing office in 1834

December 07, 2010
Tags: books, history, library, printing, type
The ceilings are black as printers' ink with the candle-smoke of two or three generations, and the walls, save where they were polished to a greasy brown by the friction of the shoulder, were of the same color. The wind and the rain were patched out from the clattering casements and the rotting window-frames by inch-thick layers of brown paper and paste. Type of all descriptions, old as the building itself, or shining new from the foundry, was abundant as gravel in a gravel-pit, and seemed about as much cared for. ...

The manuscript received, collated, and folioed, and a few other necessary preliminaries first settled, a general order is issued for all hands to suspend everything in progress, to mount cases of a certain specified type, and prepare for copy.

Then there is a general burrowing and rummaging in all the dark holes, dusty corners, and damp cellars of the crazy edifice for the type in request, and no small amount of squabbling and skirmishing for its possession when found. The foraging, at last successful, furnishes material for the rapid and pattering shower of wet metal into the dusty cases.

From The Working Man's Way in the World: Being the Autobiography of a Journeyman Printer, by Charles Manby Smith, 1854. Available in full, for free, at Google Books.