N.B. All text in black excerpted from Lawrence C. Wroth's The Colonial Printer. Curatorial remarks are in red.

It is proposed to bring together in the following pages a number of facts relating to this [Colonial] printer's activities, and by the correlation of these to attempt a reconstruction of the physical aspect of his establishment as well as to affirm the general conditions under which it functioned. In the sections that follow, therefore, we shall deal with the tools and materials of the colonial printer's trade; that is, with his press, his type, his ink, and his paper, and when these have been examined, we shall go on to discuss his shop procedure, the labor conditions that confronted him, the nature of his product, and the remuneration he received for his efforts… The Colonial Printer, p. xv




This investigation of the colonial American printing trade is not to become an essay in bibliophilism, but…[t]o love the contents of a book and to know and care nothing about the volume itself, to love the treasure and to be unmindful of the earthen vessel that loyally holds and preserves it, is to be only half a lover, deaf to a whole series of notes in the gamut of emotion. The booklover, more richly endowed, broods over the hand that fashioned the volume he reads, and, like the Tramp Royal, he goes on till he dies observing "the different ways that different things are done," the materials, the processes, the how and what and why of the ancient mysteries of printing, paper making, type founding, ink making, press building, and binding. The Colonial Printer, p. xvii  



God save us from the hearty, windy fellows who say, "I had just as lief read an author in a poor edition as a good one." One is ashamed for such as these, for the incompleteness of their spiritual perceptions, for their imperfect realization of the humanity that breathes from type and paper and binding, for their blindness to the process of artistic selection and rejection that underlies the making of a book. The Colonial Printer, p. xviii  

The first press to begin operation in English America was set up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the year 1639. The last press to be established in one of the thirteen original colonies was that which James Johnston brought from Great Britain to Savannah in the year 1762 for the service of the colony of Georgia. In the intervening century and a quarter more than one hundred master printers had been at work in twenty-five towns, and in the year that Johnston set up his printing house in the thirteenth colony about forty presses were in active operation throughout the country. The press had become in this epoch the rival of the pulpit as a vehicle of ideas… [I]n the table that immediately follows, chronology has given place to lines of influence, genealogically presented, and cold priority has yielded to spiritual affinity. The Colonial Printer, p. 14



Consideration of the shop equipment, or, as it was called in the language of the trade, the "printing house," of the colonial printer provides entertainment for the antiquarian and instruction for the amateur of books. The sight of a skilled workman plying his tools is one of the experiences that sweeten life, and it would be pleasant if in these pages we could follow a manuscript through all the processes of the printing shop until it was turned out a finished and bound volume for the reader's delectation, observing the several mechanical problems that arose in its progress and studying the means employed for their solution. There is no royal road, however, to an understanding of the intricate though orderly processes of these establishments. The Colonial Printer, p. 61

1) A collection of all the acts of assembly, now in force, in the colony of Virginia.
Williamsburg: William Parks, 1733.

2) John Eliot. Wusku wuttestamentum nul-lordumun Jesus Christ nuppoquohwussuaeneumun. Cambridge: Samuel Green and Marmaduke Johnson, 1685.

Any well-established job printer of the present day would consider himself impoverished if his equipment were cut down to a money value relatively as low as that of the materials here enumerated. The same man, with power presses and type-setting machines at his command, would throw up his hands if he were asked to duplicate some of the notable issues of colonial establishments of this type. It was by the economical and skilful use of such equipment as this that Lewis Timothy's Laws of South Carolina, Parks's Collection of all the Acts of Virginia, Jonas Green's Laws of Maryland, the Mennonite Martyr Book, the Eliot Indian Bible, the Sower German Bible of 1743, and a score of other monumental works, some of them hideous to the eye, others composed and impressed in the grand manner of the masters of typography, were issued almost as a matter of course from the dingy and ill-lighted shops of a pioneer country. The Colonial Printer, pp. 67-68




No single article of equipment used by the colonial American printer has been more casually treated in designation and in description than the all-important wooden printing press with which he and his European predecessors worked from almost the earliest days of printing. The press of the American shop is usually loosely referred to by those who write of it as being either of the "Blaeu" of the "Ramage" type. Further definition is left discreetly to the reader, who, usually, is just as discreetly satisfied with the terms employed…[T]he press he used was certainly not of the Ramage variety, and if it was the Blaeu press, it was so modified in the characteristic features of that machine as hardly to deserve the name in designation. The Colonial Printer, p. 69

I have been trying for years to get people out of the habit of speaking of any old wooden printing press as a Blaeu press. If you will look at the chapter in my Colonial Printer on the printing press, you will see the extent to which I have gone into that subject. [Wroth to Boyd, 29 October 1937]


Green's mechanical drawings form an appendix to The Colonial Printer. In a letter dated 24 August 1938, Wroth wrote to Green:

"I was interested in what you wrote about your collection of material on hand presses and I hope that one day you will put all of it into print…It is very kind of you to give me permission to use part of your sketches as illustrative material in my book…I am quite overcome at your further offer to send me some sketches of diagrams showing the names and locations of various parts of the hand press. It seems almost too much to ask you to prepare such sketches for another man's book….Sincerely and gratefully yours…


4) American apollo. Boston: Belknap and Hall, 1792.

All that can be said in regard to this question is that the building of a press for William Goddard of Philadelphia by Isaac Doolittle of New Haven in September, 1769, is the beginning, so far as the known facts show, of press building as an industry in English America. It is clear that soon after this event the building of printing presses became general throughout the country. In 1775, presses were being manufactured in Philadelphia and in Hartford, and soon afterwards in various American cities. … On January 6, 1792, the American Apollo of Boston announced that its current issue had been printed on "the first complete Printing-Press ever made in this town—the wood-work was made by Mr. Berry, and the iron-work by Mr. McClench." One may interrupt the narrative for a moment at this point to admire the appropriateness of the name "McClench" for a worker in iron, a vigorous, gripping name that calls up a vision of the pincers, the vise, and the wrench. The Colonial Printer, pp. 84-85