July 11

John Bell the English publisher, typefounder, and bookseller, in his anxiety to produce the most splendid printing of his times, inserted into the columns of his own newspaper, The World, upon this day in the following advertisement:

“Press-men for Book-work—Wanted, Four Complete Press-men, who can execute Book-work in the most perfect manner, and who can be warranted for their regularity and sobriety. They may depend on constant employment so long as they execute their business perfectly; they will be paid by the piece or by the week, as may be most conducive to their own interest, and the satisfaction of their employer. For particulars enquire at the Commercial-Office of this Paper, comer of Exeter Exchange in the Strand. None need apply but the very best workmen; as none of an inferior description will be continued.”

Apparently this request for paragons of their kind struck a warm note among the printing fraternity, as somewhat later another advertisement appeared, this time asking for a compositor who would doubtless be fit company for his strong-backed brethren in the pressroom:

“Wanted: A Compositor for a Daily Newspaper. He must be a perfect good hand, sober, steady, attentive to business and of creditable appearance. It is needless for any other to apply than those who possess the above requisites, and the most scrupulous enquiry will be made into their ability. Apply at the office of the Paper, Exeter ‘Change, in the Strand.”

Since Bell’s printing office contained such a unique group of printers, at once both industrious and sober, the proprietor next attempted to locate a man who could not only live with such qualities but make them productive. He placed another advertisement asking for:

“An intelligent Person of liberal Education who possesses a Taste for Printing—and who can devote the whole of his time to the superintendence of a Daily Publication, may hear of an eligible situation, by applying to the Printer of the Paper, at the corner of Exeter ‘Change, in the Strand.”

It is possible to detect in the first two advertisements the reputation acquired by the craft printers of the times. It is difficult to pin down exactly when printers as a group began to be accused of intemperate habits. Possibly it was the length of the working day under which men of better than average intelligence found it necessary to labor. Compositors learned in several languages were not at all uncommon, and such craftsmen, no doubt chafing under the restrictions placed upon them, found release in the less confining atmosphere of the ale-room.

Until fairly recent times, when the era of the tramp printer became a thing of the past, a printer was naturally assumed to be a toper. Up to the turn of the century small town hotels and boarding houses as often as not posted notices that printers would not be accepted. Nowadays the printer tends to be an industrious and sober individual who works his shift and goes home to spend his evenings with his family. It may be noted also that there has been a certain loss of the romance formerly associated with the craft. Moralists may observe this to their satisfaction.

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