Beacon Street Diary blog

Book History in the Town Histories

The books in the Town Histories section tell us more than the stories of towns big and small; they show the history of the book in the nineteenth-century. Prior to 1800, every aspect of book production — papermaking, casting and setting type, printing, and binding — was done by hand. The book world began to experience the effects of the Industrial Revolution with the introduction of steam-powered printing presses around 1800. Papermaking was mechanized at the same time, and wood pulp paper was first used in the mid-nineteenth-century. By the mid-1800s, enormous rolls of paper were fed through steam-powered presses, creating large quantities of books at unprecedented speeds.

Hand-bookbinding slowed down book production, and this problem was solved when starch-filled bookcloth was introduced in the 1820s. The bookcloth was glued to boards. These covers, or "cases", were made separately from the pages, or text block, which were then glued into the cases. Publishers stamped multi-colored and gold- or silver-colored decorations onto these bindings using metal dies.

The Isles of Shoals. An Historical Sketch by John Scribner Jenness, published by Hurd and Houghton, New York, 1873

The Theology section also includes one book with an extraordinary publisher's binding.

Future Punishment; or Does Death End Probation? Materialism, Immortality of the Soul; Conditional Immortality or Annihilationism, Universalism or Restorationsim; Optimism or Eternal Hope; Probationism and Purgatory. By the Rev’d William Cochrane, D.D., published by Bradley, Garretson & Co., Brantford, Ontario, 1886

"Deluxe" bindings mimicked fine leather volumes bound by hand, using inexpensive leathers and false bands across the spine. It can be difficult to determine whether a book has false bands without taking the book apart and destroying the binding. The book pictured below may be one of these nineteenth-century deluxe bindings.

Two Hundred Years Ago; or, A Brief History of Cambridgeport and East Cambridge, with Notices of Some of the Early Settlers written by S.S.S. Published by Otis Clapp, Boston, 1859

Many books also contained multi-colored illustrations created by chromolithography, a color-printing technique developed by the French in the 1820s where colors are applied on top of each other to create a multi-colored image.

This lithograph is pasted to the front cover of: World’s Columbian Exposition 1893 Chicago: Catalogue of the Russian Section published by the Imperial Russian Commission, Ministry of Finances, St. Petersburg, 1893

Stereotyping and electrotyping were two popular printing techniques in the nineteenth-century. A stereotype plate is created by pressing papier-mâché onto set type. The dried papier-mâché forms a mold into which type metal is poured, and the result is a metal plate that contains all of the text for one page of a book. Once a printer had created stereotype plates (or stereos) for all of the pages of a book, he could free the type set by hand and use it to set the pages of other books. In the future, when he wanted to reprint a book, he could use the stereos — whereas in the past, he would have had to reset all of the pages by hand. Electrotype plates are created using water, metal salts, and electricity. The electricity is applied to a solution in which metal has been placed, causing the metal to spread over the surface of a mold, taking its shape. Like stereos, electrotype plates each contain an entire page of text. Needless to say, the use of stereos and electrotype plates sped up the process of printing.

The City of Cincinnati. A Summary of the Attractions, Advantages, Institutions and Internal Improvements, with a Statement of Its Public Charites by George E. Stevens, published by Geo. S. Blanchard & Co., Cincinnati, 1869   Walks and Rides in the Country Round About Boston Covering Thirty-Six Cities and Towns, Parks and Public Reservations, Within a Radius of Twelve Miles from the State House by Edwin M. Bacon, Published for the Appalachian Mountain Club by Houghton, Mifflin and Company, Boston, 1897

Walks and Rides in the Country Round About Boston has a unique binding feature: pockets in the front and back covers. These pockets contain four lithographed maps.

For decades, the mechanization of typesetting eluded printers and publishers. The linotype machine, which cast one line of type in a single slug, was invented in the 1880s, and it further sped up the printing process. Today, most typesetting is done by computer; only fine press publishers continue the tradition of setting type and printing by hand.

In the nineteenth-century, publishers added advertisements to their books. These ads range in size from single leaves to pamphlet-sized advertising supplements, and they were glued ("tipped") or bound into books. One book in the Special Topics in Theology section contains both tipped-in and bound-in advertisements.

Heaven Our Home. We Have No Saviour But Jesus, and No Home But Heaven by the Author of "Meet for Heaven," "Life in Heaven," "Christ's Transfiguration" published by William P. Nimmo, Edinburgh, 1871

The nineteenth-century was an era of faster and cheaper book production, and its legacy can be seen today in any bookstore or library: shelves of books printed on wood pulp paper with cased-in bindings.


-Clarissa Yingling

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