Anyone could own?

Last week I was trying to show that one individual has always been powerless against the rulers, but an organization or union has always been capable of pushing back against demons.

4. Before Hollerith, record-keeping and calculation were partly mechanized by printing presses and typewriters and abacuses and cash registers. Anyone could own an adding machine, and anyone could own a printing press. The press preferred a few employees for an efficient use of capital, but one-man weekly newspapers were common. Governments and giant businesses had no advantage in this era of mechanization.

Could anyone own a press? The labor factor is clear, but I didn’t know the initial cost.

Here’s a ‘starter kit’ for a smalltown weekly, from a 1902 Inland Type Founders catalog. Inland was in St Louis, so they would have been supplying the early papers in Kansas and Oklahoma.

$176 was about 1/4 of median annual income. More than a poor man could plunk down on a whim, but could be saved up in a few years, especially with large families pooling their labor and money.

Most of the parts and quantities look about right. A big pile of 10-pt Roman for articles, and 8-pt Roman for ads and fillers. Woodward for the headlines:

You’d be ordering ink and paper steadily, and you’d expand your font assortment as you wore out the old fonts.

The Army Press was unfamiliar.

It looked like a proof press. On the proof press, the paper is clamped to the roller, which rolls and slides over the stationary chase:

= = = = =

On the Army press, the crank turned the roller, causing the chase to slide under the stationary roller. Paper was sandwiched between a frisket** and a tympan or blanket. The frisket was a frame carrying a matte of parchment or card stock, cut out in the middle to prevent the paper from touching the blocks and quoins and furniture outside the actual type form. The tympan, true to its name, was a canvas or leather sheet stretched across a frame. The sandwich then folded down on top of the chase. When the chase slid back and forth, the roller pushed down on the tympan, forcing the paper against the lead type.

The Army Press would have required at least two helpers for efficient operation. One to roll the ink on the form, the other to insert and remove the paper. Per one description, the Army could make 180 impressions per hour. Since most small weeklies had about 200 subscribers, and each edition had two or three two-sided sheets, one long day would suffice to print an issue.

The Pearl press was easier to operate. One man could run it quickly, with pedal power or electric power, making 1200 impressions per hour. But the typical Pearl handled letterhead-size paper. A Pearl large enough for the weekly newspaper’s broadsheet was $400, twice the entire basic kit.

In other words, the Army was ideal for larger paper and smaller budgets.

= = = = =

St Louis was strongly German in those days. Eastern Missouri was full of German Catholics who maintained their own culture and language and enjoyed their own newspapers.

Note that the text is in proper German, not a ‘dictionary translation’. Why?

= = = = =

** The frisket itself is familiar, but I’ve never heard the word. When I was working in printshops in the ’70s, it was called the makeready. Both terms were used in earlier times, as in this snip from 1825:

Under this phrase, of making ready the forme, are comprehended many other operations: 1, The frisket must be covered with brown or stiff paper, by means of paste, and cut;… 2, He then takes off the frisket, and laying it flat on his bank, with the point of a sharp knife cuts through the frisket about all the sides of each page; he thus cuts out of the frisket about a nonpareil margin on all the sides of the cut pages…

The etymology is obscure. Frisque entered English around 1600, meaning lively or quick. Later the adjective became frisky, and frisk became a slang verb for picking a pocket, then flipped to police picking a criminal’s pocket. Frisquette was originally in French, with the current meaning of a matte used in printing and other arts. Nobody knows how this came from ‘quick’. Cutting out a frisket is vaguely like making a pocket, but the pocket connection seems to have come much later than the printing connection.

%d bloggers like this: