February 14

Walter Nurnberg's frontispiece from his "Words In Their Hands"

In the light of the contemporary relationship between printers and their employers, there is a certain aura of respect evident in a document prepared by the Compositors of London on February 14, 1793 for delivery to the Master Printers. Under the heading of The Address of the Compositors of London to the Master Printers, the comps stated their grievances—but most politely—as follows:

“Seven years have now elapsed since we addressed the Master Printers on the Subject of an Advance of Prices; with Gratitude we call to our Remembrance that they then deemed our Application worthy Their Attention, and that they thought fit to redress, in Part, the Grievances we complained of. As we disclaim all Proceedings militating against Justice, or that are subversive of decent and respectful Behaviour, we presume that any Communication, which the present Situation of the Business renders necessary to be opened with our Employers, will be received in a Manner suitable to its Importance, and with Candour coinciding with its Equity. Impressed with this Idea, we respectfully submit the Two following Propositions for your Sanction:

“I. That all works be cast up with Heads and Directions inclusive.

“II. That Em or En Quadrats, or whatever is used at the Beginnings and Ends of Lines, be considered each as a Letter, and be included as in the above Article.

“The Reason we beg to offer that Heads and Directions should be included in the future Estimation of Works, is, that they are to all Intents and Purposes a Part of the Page; and that the former are often attended with peculiar Trouble, especially when composed in a Type different from that employed on the Body of the Work, sometimes consisting of Capital and Small Capital Letters united, and frequently of Italic Capitals, which require the utmost Skill of the Compositor to space with Neatness and Propriety; insomuch, that the Time employed in this Part of the Business would be fully sufficient (in many Instances) for the Composition of Four Lines of ordinary Matter; this Trouble, when it is extended to the supplying running Titles for two or three Sheets of Letter, occasions a considerable Drawback from the Earnings of the Compositor, and is a Hardship which we hope our Employers can have no objection to remove.”

The compositors then reminded their employers that the cost of living had increased considerably since 1785 and closed with this paragraph:

‘The communication of your sentiments to the Compositors in your Office or in any Manner agreeable to the Masters in general, to the Committee of Compositors at the Hole-in-the-Wall, Fleet Street, on or before the first of March, will be gratefully received by your Humble Servants.”

Some 539 journeymen comps signed the address, and the Master Printers agreed to but one of the requests.

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