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Thanks to Napoleon Bonaparte, Brazil got its first official printing press in May 1808. When the French invaded Portugal at the end of 1807, the king D. Joćo VI, the Royal Family, the Court, and the Royal Library moved to Rio de Janeiro (that explains why among the holdings of the Biblioteca Nacional in Brazil one can find some two hundred engravings by Dürer, books of hours, sixteenth-century maps, and parchments, in a total of sixty thousand volumes at the time).

Among the royal belongings there were some boxes brought from London, containing printing presses and type faces originally for the use of the Court in Portugal. They went to Brazil on the same ship in which Antonio de Araújo de Azevedo, the Conde da Barca travelled, called the Meduza, part of the fleet transporting the Royal Family. Upon his arrival in Rio, he installed the presses in the basement of his new house. As a man of many interests, he also brought a Mineralogy collection, as well as several laboratory tools. He cultivated a garden of about 1400 Brazilian and exotic plants in his backyard, later known as “Hortus Araujensis”. In the same basement where the press was installed, he also created a porcelain factory, a chemistry laboratory for experiments with native plants, and a Scottish-like still from which he made “British water” and medicine. He also brought his own library of more than 6000 volumes, later incorporated in the collection of the Biblioteca Nacional in Rio.

The group responsible for the Impressão Régia in the first Junta period (1808–1815) wanted to create a place to cast type faces in Rio de Janeiro. For that, Alexandrino José das Neves was sent to England for training, with the charge of setting up a foundry in Brazil. Unfortunately, this never really happened: shortly after Neves came back to Brazil he left for Lisbon to work at the Impressão Régia in that city.

The Impressão Régia in Rio de Janeiro started its activities on the same day it was created, May 13, 1808, printing a 27-page booklet called Relação dos despachos, and some other official documents as well. According to Valle Cabral 1,154 items were published before 1822, most of them decrees, alvarás, sermons, broadsides, etc.

“In September 10, 1808, the Impressão Régia published the first Brazilian newspaper: Gazeta do Rio de Janeiro, extracted from the Gazeta de Lisboa, the latter translated from the British newspapers. A few months earlier in London, Hipólito José da Costa had founded the Correio Brasiliense ou Armazén Literário, which for 13 years was the only independent periodical publication that informed Brazilians, in spite of the distance. A native of Brazil, Costa tirelessly fought against slavery and against Brazil’s colonial status. He studied in Rio de Janeiro and later in Coimbra where he received degrees in law and philosophy. From 1798 to 1800 he was a Portuguese envoy to the Unites States, in Philadelphia. After returning to Europe, he was sent to London as a cultural representative. But the next time he entered Portugal, he was arrested by the Inquisition on charges of Freemasonry. Three years passed before he was able to escape from prison.

Back in London, he became the editor and the main author of the Correio Brasiliense, an impressive organ for denouncing the misconduct of Portuguese politicians, bribery, nepotism, and abuses of power by both the secular administration and the church. But the periodical also contained news from around the world and essays on literature and culture. The Correio was particularly supportive of the revolutions for independence in Spanish America. So disturbed was the imperial regime by this magazine that it prohibited its entry into Portugal and Brazil, an edict that was renewed several times until 1817. Predictably, the ban was useless. So much prestige did Costa have in Brazil, that after independence in 1822, he was appointed special Brazilian ambassador to the British court.” (Annals of Colonial Brazil, an exhibition at the JCB in 2000)

There had been wooden printing presses in Brazil since 1770. A royal alvará of August 8 in that same year gives “privileges and tax exemptions to people occupied in making playing cards” in Bahia. But it was in 1809 that the first wooden press was built, and in 1813 type moulds were created for the Royal press.

With the second Junta (1815–1830) a new period for the Impressão Régia began, now also known as Real Officina. The Royal Playing Cards Factory returned to private hands, and by 1821 there were about seven presses, but this was still considered insufficient. In 1821 and 1822 the Impressão Régia used the following names: Impressão Nacional, Imprensa Nacional, Tipografia Real, Tipografia Régia, Tipografia Nacional, Régia Tipografia e Real Tipografia. The year 1821 also brought some freedom of printing with the Typographia de Moreira e Garcez and Nova Officina Typographica.

A very short history regarding printing in Brazil:

Chances are that Count Mauritz of Nassau might have introduced a printing press in Pernambuco in the middle of the 17th century, during the Dutch occupation in the Northeast of Brazil. It is known that presses and type faces were sent from Holland, but Pieter Janszoon, who went to Brazil to work at the new typography, died soon after getting there.

In the beginning of the 18th century another attempt was made in the same city of Recife, but again with no success. During the government of Francisco de Castro Morais, an obscure businessman put together a small press, and started printing bills of exchange and religious speeches. Nothing has survived to prove its existence, except for a royal letter of June 8, 1706 prohibiting and confiscating the printed materials.

About 40 years later, the well regarded Portuguese printer Antonio Isidoro da Fonseca published 4 works in his oficina in Rio de Janeiro, with the permission of governor Gomes Freire. The best known is Relação da entrada que fez o excellentissimo, e reverendissimo senhor D. F. Antonio do Desterro Malheyro bispo do Rio de Janeiro, em o primeiro dia deste prezente anno de 1747, by Luiz Antonio Rosado da Cunha. But the novelty didn't last long: considered inconvenient by the Court in Portugal, the oficina was closed and sent back to Portugal, and nobody knows what happened to the printer. Nowadays this is recognized as the first book printed in Brazil.

Until the middle of the century, Brazil had several other presses: in Bahia, 1811; Recife, 1815 (in fact, it began in 1817 during the revolution, and continued after 1821); Maranhão, 1821; Pará, 1821, Minas Gerais, 1822.; Ceará, 1824; Paraíba, 1826; São Paulo and Rio Grande do Sul, 1827; State of Rio de Janeiro; 1829; Goiás, 1830; Santa Catarina and Alagoas, 1831; Rio Grande do Norte, Piauí and Sergipe, 1832; Espírito Santo and Mato Grosso, 1840; Paraná, 1849; and Amazonas, 1852.

With regard to printing presses and type faces: both Rizzini (p. 317) and Valle Cabral (p. xiv, introduction) state that Brazil had presses and type faces from England. Regarding Isidoro da Fonseca's printing press, Sodré cites a royal document of July 6, 1747 in which the king ordered the confiscation of many sorts of type that had come to Brazil that year, requiring that they be sent back to Portugal.

Would they all have gone back? Where did they come from?

(Translated from Valle Cabral, Rizzini, and Sodré)