The history of print from 1700 to 1799

During the eighteenth century newspapers and magazines start appearing all over the world. The volume of work that is printed increases enormously. It is estimated that 337,000 book titles are printed in the eighteenth century. Obviously this also leads to many more people working in the industry. In 1725 there are 75 printers in London, but by 1785 there are 124. The biggest invention is that of lithography, made by Alois Senefelder in 1796.


The Daily Courant is the first British daily newspaper. The single page two column newspaper only focusses on foreign news. It has advertisements on the reverse side and is published until 1735 when it is merged with the Daily Gazetteer.


The Boston News-Letter is the first newspaper that is published on a continuous basis in British North America. It is subsidized and controlled by the British government and has only limited circulation.


The Statute of Anne is the first modern copyright law. It originates in the United Kingdom.


The German painter and engraver Jakob Christof Le Blon produces the first engraving in several colors. He uses the mezzotint method to engrave three metal plates. Each plate is inked with a different color, using red, yellow and blue. Later on, he adds a fourth plate, bearing black lines. This technique helped form the foundation for modern color printing. Le Bon’s work is based on Newton’s theory, published in 1702, which states that all colors in the spectrum are composed of the three primary colors blue, yellow and red.


William Caslon is an English typographer whose foundry operates in London for over 200 years. His Caslon Roman Old Face is cut between 1716 and 1728.  The letters are modeled on Dutch types but they are more delicate and not as monotonous. Caslon’s typefaces remain popular, digital versions are still available today.

Caslon Pro Regular 1721

The New England Courant is published by James Franklin, the older brother of Benjamin Franklin. The market for such newspapers is still very limited with press runs (the total number printed) of 300 or less.


The Scottish goldsmith William Ged invents stereotyping. In this process, a mixture of plaster is poured on a tray of completed type to make a mold from it. Hot metal is poured into this mold and allowed to set. The resulting stereotype or cliché is a printing plate that is an exact copy of the original. From 1848 onwards molds are created from papier-mâché instead of plaster. The image below shows such a paper stereotype. The stereotyping process makes larger press runs as well as reprints much cheaper. It is used extensively for printing books and newspapers until the late 1800s when it is gradually getting replaced by electrotyping which delivers sharper copies in which finer detail can be preserved.

paper stereotype


In London the Biblia or ‘a Practical Summary of ye Old & New Testaments’ is printed. This tiny 4 by 3-centimeter shortened version of the Bible is bound in leather with reliefs. It contains 284 pages with 14 wood engravings. Tiny books like this are popular collector’s items to this day.

tiny Biblia bible


The Gentleman’s Magazine, considered to be the first general interest magazine,  is published for the first time. The publication runs uninterrupted until 1922.

The first general interest magazine


Benjamin Franklin, who had learned to print from his brother, establishes his own printing office and becomes the publisher of the Pennsylvania Gazette. Among his publications, Poor Richard’s Almanac, a yearly publication containing a calendar, weather, poems, sayings and astronomical and astrological information, becomes the most famous. He sells the business again in 1748 to devote his time to his literary, journalistic and civic activities. He does keep promoting the print industry in the colonies.

Poor Richards Almanac


The average press run of American newspapers has risen to between 600 and 800. The aggregate circulation of all newspapers in America is estimated to be 14000 on a weekly basis.


In England, the first patent is issued for making colored inks.


Alois Senefelder invents lithography and uses it as a low-cost method for printing theatrical works. Lithography is a printing technique in which an image is drawn on a stone (a lithographic limestone) using a coating of wax or another greasy substance. This makes those areas hydrophobic (water repellent but ink accepting) while the slightly roughened remaining parts are hydrophilic (water accepting). The stone is then moistened with water which the hydrophilic parts suck up. Next, an oil-based ink is rolled onto the stone. Only the greasy parts pick up the ink. Finally, a piece of paper is pressed onto the stone and the ink transfers from the stone to the paper.

A stone used for lithographyLithography is still the dominant printing technique today. Meanwhile, the stone has been replaced by an aluminum or plastic plate and the image to be printed is created digitally, not by hand.


Giambattista Bodoni creates a series of typefaces that carry his name and that are still frequently used today. They are characterized by the sharp contrast between the thick vertical stems and thin horizontal hairlines.

Bodoni Book

Initially, Bodoni ran a state-owned printing house in Parma, Italy but his success enabled him to start his own company, Officina Bodoni. During his lifetime Bodoni designed and engraved 298 typefaces. A facsimile of Il Manuale tipografico (The Manual of Typography), which shows many of his designs, is still available today.


The Frenchman Louis-Nicolas Robert invents a continuous paper making machine, based on a specially woven bronze mesh conveyor belt called ‘the wire’. An improved version is developed by his financial backers, the English brothers Sealy and Henry Fourdrinier whose Fourdrinier Machines become operational from 1803 onwards. The image below is from 1852 and shows to the left how pulp, made from linen or hemp rags, is poured on a woven wire conveyor belt. Water leaks away through the belt. Heated rollers smooth and dry the paper which is then rolled up. Modern papermaking machines are still based on this concept.

Fourdrinier machine



23 April 2017

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