The modernization of printing techniques in the 19th centurye century

The modernization of printing techniques in the 19th century<sup>e</sup> century

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  • Department of Industrial Arts: Intaglio printer.

    DEVELLY Jean-Charles (1738 - 1849)

  • Industrial Arts Department: Typography.

    DEVELLY Jean-Charles (1738 - 1849)

Department of Industrial Arts: Intaglio printer.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - M. Beck-Coppola

Industrial Arts Department: Typography.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - M. Beck-Coppola

Publication date: September 2006

Historical context

Internal changes in French publishing

During the second half of the XVIIIe century, the publishing world underwent several upheavals, under the joint effect of the demographic surge and the economic recovery between 1730 and 1760. We are witnessing an inflation of printed production, including newspapers, administrative publications and publications. books on topical issues, which meet the growing need for information in society, are the main beneficiaries. The French Revolution only accelerated this phenomenon, with the publication of multiple newspapers, brochures, libels and political pamphlets which contributed to the emergence of a national public opinion. At the same time, the reading public continues to expand thanks to advances in literacy. However, there is a gap between the growing demand for printed matter and the technical means implemented to meet it.

Image Analysis

The traditional workshop system

For a long time, the French printing sector has used centuries-old techniques dating back to the time of Gutenberg to manufacture the book: complex to handle and often poorly functioning, despite some occasional improvements, the typographic press manual yields only low yields, while the production of paper, obtained from the cipher, is far from being mechanized. At the beginning of the XIXe century, most of the French printing press remains dominated by the system of small workshops which have recourse to traditional processes of manufacture. This is shown by the two sets by Jean-Charles Develly (1783-1849) executed for porcelain from the Sèvres factory. The first, dated between 1823 and 1835, represents the interior of a typographic printer's workshop, where we can distinguish the different phases of the printing work: a large number of workers are busy with tasks well specific, such as the constitution of a composition page from the assembly of typographical characters arranged in a case, the insertion of the pages thus obtained in a form arranged in a frame, the positioning of the sheets of white paper on the tympanum of a Stanhope press, printing the form, drying the printed pages, and then assembling them. With the exception of the metal press developed by Lord Stanhope in 1801, which is stronger and more efficient because it allows more pages to be printed at a time, this workshop continues to use the know-how and machines inherited from the Gutenbergian era. Entirely manual and artisanal, the composition and printing mobilize a large stock of characters, as well as a plethora of labor. The printmaking sector is in a similar situation, as suggested by Develly's second drawing of an intaglio printing workshop. Appeared at the end of the XVIe century, this process of intaglio from a copper plate previously engraved, inked and wiped was very widespread under the Ancien Régime for the illustration of books. On this porcelain, workers operate a traditional press with wooden arms, before hanging the printed sheets to dry them. On the right, in the foreground, two figures verify the result obtained.


The premises of an industrial revolution

The gap continues to widen during the XIXe century between archaic production techniques and the emergence of a new market. In order to adapt the printing sector to the new conjuncture, technical research was undertaken from the end of the 18th century.e century to increase the productivity of machines and thus meet the demands of the readership. Thanks to progress in the steel industry, the press underwent a series of in-depth modifications: from the one-shot press, the invention of which, between 1781 and 1783, is attributed sometimes to Laurent Anisson and sometimes to François-Ambroise Didot, to the press Steam mechanics developed by Koenig and Bauer in 1813, using the Stanhope press, a series of innovations were born, which made it possible to increase yields significantly. This movement soon spread to the field of typography, with the development of new composition processes. A decisive step was taken with the development of the stereotypy: from now on, the typographer replaces the form of movable characters by a solid block bearing the text in relief and usable for each reprint. The main advantage of this process lies in the greater speed of the composition work. In the field of illustration, the lithographic stone engraving discovered by Aloÿs Senefelder around 1796 constitutes a real revolution, which is introduced in France from the years 1814-1816. But this set of technical innovations only affects a limited number of workshops. Only a few large printing houses manage to acquire the most recent machines, and the majority of small workshops remain outside this process of industrialization. Also the French printing companies present a heterogeneous face throughout the XIXe century.

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Fernand BRAUDEL and Ernest LABROUSSE (dir.), Economic and social history of France (1789 - 1880s). III, Paris, PUF, 1993. Roger CHARTIER and Henri-Jean MARTIN (eds.), History of French publishing. II et III, Paris, Promodis, 1984-1985.Paul CHAUVET, History of the book workers in France, from 1789 to 1881, Paris, Michel Rivière, 1964. Jean-François GILMONT, The book, from the manuscript to the electronic era , Liège, ed. du Cefal, 1993. Albert LABARRE, Histoire du livre, Paris, PUF, 1990 (5th ed.) The book [exhibition catalog], Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, 1972.

To cite this article

Charlotte DENOËL, "The modernization of printing techniques in the XIXe century "

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