Page 10 - Decembert 2014
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PRINTING CLASSES AT THE UNIVERSITY
LIBRARY, CAMBRIDGE by Nicholas Smith

     ’VE BEEN INVOLVED with running             quickly – the plate had been glued onto the
     prinƟng classes at the University Library  wood, but as the wood became acclimaƟsed
     in Cambridge since the mid 1970s, when     to the dry atmosphere, it contracted and the
our Historic PrinƟng Room was set up by         bond was broken, so that four small bolts
Dr Philip Gaskell, who himself had started      had to be fiƩed.) My main reservaƟon is that
prinƟng as a student in a cellar in King’s      the press is very big – roughly royal in size,
College. His idea was that people studying      and is quite hard to work. Nevertheless it has
the literature wriƩen between 1450 and          been very useful for demonstraƟons – and for
1850 needed to know something about             quite a few episodes for films and television!
prinƟng, since prinƟng pracƟces and even        It was designed to be easily dismantled,
printers’ errors could have a considerable      though four people are needed to carry the
effect on the text of the works they were        bed with its marble stone (this was another
studying.
                                                early casualty – on the first pull by Gaskell the
He started by donaƟng                           original limestone cracked in two, being not
some of his own                                 properly supported; the replacement marble
equipment – a nice                              is bedded on bran!). Our farthest excursion
counterweight Albion                            so far was to Haddon Hall in Derbyshire, for a
of 1827 and a table                             film celebraƟng the King James Bible.
platen (no maker’s
name but a Golding
clone) – as well as
some type. More type,
mostly different sizes
of Ehrhardt, was cast
for us by the University
Press, where Monotype
was sƟll going strong.
He also commissioned
a replica wooden press
from the Engineering
Department workshops.
Unusually this was not
based on any exisƟng
press, but on a detailed
descripƟon in Stower’s Printer’s Grammar
of 1808. Most of the design was tradiƟonal,
but he did put a steel plate on the boƩom
of the wooden platen, not a tradiƟonal
construcƟon. (This platen gave trouble very

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