August 22

“It has been my endeavor to combine the agreeable with the useful, and should this, a first attempt, meet with the approbation of the ‘Gentlemen of the Press,’ to whom it is most respectfully inscribed, the aim of the Compiler will be attained, his warmest wishes realized, and a debt of heartfelt gratitude be owing to them from C.H.T. a brother typo!’

With this paragraph, written and dated this day in 1833, a wounded veteran of Waterloo and journeyman printer named C.H. Timperley ended his preface to Songs of the Press, which was subtitled, “and other Poems Relative to the Art of Printing.” In this compilation, the first of its kind to be printed in English, appeared poems written by Leigh Hunt, Benjamin Franklin, Dean Swift, and Coleridge, in addition to the anthologist himself and a score of anonymous versifiers.

Readers of the periodical press devoted to “the art preservative” for long expected to be entertained with poetry, and it is only during the last fifty years or so that the printer poets were deprived of space in which to indulge their minstrelsy. Naturally enough, most of their rhyming would be consigned to the hell box by serious critics as “editorial page” verse.

Probably the earliest appearance of verse in relation to the printer’s art was in a book printed by Albert Pfister at Bamberg in the 15th century, in which the colophon read:

If by it we our lives mend,
This little book has gained its end
Which certainly in Bamberg town
By Albert Pfister’s press was done
In fourteen hundred sixty two
As men now reckon, that is true.

Frequently the terms used in the printing office were italicized in the poems. An example of this is in the Song written for the Nottingham Typographical Society by one J. Thompson. The tune for this one is Hearts of Oak:

When our copy is out, ’tis a
signal to go,—
Short of sorts, when on tramp is
a bad case, you know;
Then lay up, my lads, and your
quoins will be found
A treasure, unlock’d, in life’s
changeable round.

In the United States the most widely reprinted piece of printer’s poesy is The Song of the Printer, by Thomas MacKellar, which appeared in the eighteen editions of his famous manual, The American Printer, first published in 1866. This widely quoted bit of verse begins:

Pick and click
Goes the type in the stick,
As the printer stands at his case;
His eyes glance quick,and his
fingers pick
The type at a rapid pace; . . .

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