Inking, Paper Registration, and Pulling: Hand Press Printing, c. 1460-1800

Thanks to the Rare Book School (U.Va.) for permission to display these images taken in the July 23-28, 2006 session.

Working the Ink--the tacky ink must be vigorously rolled out on the ink balls to insure that the type is evenly inked


Type set in octavo format, half-sheet imposition for work-and-turn, to produce pamphlets made from two complete four-leaf gatherings, cut in half across the long dimension before binding--the wooden "furniture" around the outside locks lines of individual type units together; note the engraving locked into the title page (lower left)

Inking the Forme--the pressman's assistant punches the ink balls into the type in successive patterns to evenly ink the whole forme (i.e., multiple pages laid out together)

Opening the Frisket--the frisket carries the paper down upon the type and masks the portions of the page that should not be exposed to ink

Frisket with Registration Guide Sheet--a "proof sheet" is attached to the frisket to show the printer what is already printed on the sheets that being "perfected" by printing the other side; the corner is intentionally torn off to give the printer a place to grab the newly printed sheet so that it can be removed cleanly and quickly

Placing a Sheet on the Frisket--correct registration is crucial because a misaligned sheet will allow "show through" of one page's print behind another, and the pages will be crooked when bound

Using Frisket Pins to Register the Sheet Relative to the Type Position in the Forme--note the "show-through" of printing on obverse of the sheet to be printed

Closed Frisket with Eight Page Surfaces Exposed for Printing--impressions made by accidentally inked furniture are prevented from hitting the page by the frisket

The First Pull--note the tendons standing out in her neck; the pull requires considerable force to impress the inked type fully into the paper

The Release, Stage One--the bar is now out of sight because it is bouncing off the far "cheek" or upright member of the press, releasing the kinetic energy stored up by the mechanism during the pull

The Release, Stage Two--the bar, returning on the rebound, will be taken in printer's right hand preparing for next pull; like the speed of inking and the strategies for rapidly installing the page on the frisket, this helps the pressman achieve faster impression rates, approaching the "pressman's token" of a 250 single-sided sheets per hour

Turning the Rounce--this mechanism, operated in synchronization with the returning bar, moves the coffin further under platen for the second pull

The Second Pull--notice his use of his body weight; pressmen during the hand press period could be identified as they walked by their distinctive gait, turned to the left, and their overdeveloped right arms

Simultaneous Inking and Paper Handling--the two-person print "company" works closely together for maximum efficiency; pressmen's "companies" were among the most politically organized craftsmen because their work required intense cooperation, and they were among the first craft guilds to strike for higher wages in the Late Medieval and Early Modern period

Repeat the Process from the Top, in Fifteen to Thirty Seconds for Each Side of a Sheet, for Twelve Hours a Day, Six Days a Week--pressmen developed innumerable inventions to speed the printing process and to reduce repetitive motions, from novel ways to impose the type in the forme to maximize production per pull, to improved presses that used more precise metal parts to reduce friction and increase the mechanical advantage of each motion; they also were notorious for working only enough to acquire the money they needed for the immediate future and for scrupulously observing the feast day of "Saint Monday" when they were able.