August 8

‘To the Right Reverend Father in GOD, JOHN Lord Bishop of Oxford, and Dean of Christ-Church; And to the Right Honourable Sir LEOLINE JENKINS Knight, and Principal Secretary of State, And to the Right Honourable Sir JOSEPH WILLIAMSON Knight; and one of his Majesties most this day Honourable Privy-Council.” Thus began a book about printing, written by Joseph Moxon, Member of the Royal Society, and Hydrographer to the King’s Most Excellent Majesty, who was born this day in 1627.

The book, entitled Mechanick Exercises: Or, the Doctrine of Handy Works. Applied to the Art of Printing, was in two volumes and was published in 1683. It was the first book ever written on the subject, some two hundred and twenty years after the invention of the art.

Moxon was a maker of mathematical instruments who also for a short period was a typefounder. This experience, in addition to the fact that his brother was a printer, no doubt acquainted him with the craft. In 1677 he set about to write and publish a series of monthly pamphlets on “the doctrine of handi-works,” beginning with the “Smiths, the joyners, the carpenters, and the turner’s trades,” and finally the craft of the printer.

As the first printer’s manual, Moxon’s book naturally set the pace, and for two hundred years every other manual to be written was patterned upon his treatise. Some of them were actually copied verbatim, and others simply by rewording. The later writers sometimes acknowledged their debt to Moxon, but several did not. The fact that Moxon’s material was as pertinent to the 19th century printers as to those of the 17th century is indicative of the progress, or rather the lack of it, made by the industry in the ensuing years.

The original two-volume edition is naturally enough one of the most desirable books for printers to own should they also happen to be book collectors. Of the three hundred printed, only fifty-three are now known to exist. Thirty-two of these are in the United States and one in Canada, the balance being in Europe.

The first reprint was that of Theodore L. De Vinne who produced an edition for the Grolier Club in 1896, following the original exactly. In 1958 Herbert Davis and Henry Carter edited a much needed reprint, published by Oxford University Press. This edition, authoritatively annotated, is a splendid piece of work which was much desired by all students of typography.

Oddly enough, the publisher of this edition limited the printing in the belief that the work would not sell rapidly, but the current interest in Moxon was sufficient to exhaust the edition in three years, necessitating a reprint, with added data.

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