Page 8 - October 2014
P. 8

The Common Press

          HERE USED TO BE A LOT OF             taken advantage of this ready-made research
          THEM AROUND—HENCE THE                to build their own common presses. I can
         NAME. I AM NOT SURE WHEN              think of the Tom Paine Press in Lewes, the
THEY SUPPLANTED GUTENBERG’S                    replica in the Amberley Museum, and in the
ORIGINAL DESIGN OF PRINTING                    USA Texas A&M University has one. There
PRESS, BUT IT WAS SOME TIME                    is also an example in the BriƟsh Library, and
IN THE 16TH CENTURY, AND SO                    a few years ago it was possible to go into
SUCCESSFUL WAS THE “TWO-PULL”                  the basement there and visit a 16th century
MECHANISM, THAT THE STYLE                      print shop, coming away with a souvenir 16o
ENDURED ALL THE WAY THROUGH                    pamphlet. Sadly, this great enterprise fell out
TO THE EARLY 19TH CENTURY WHEN                 of favour and the last Ɵme I visited the Library,
IRON TOOK OVER IN THE SHAPE OF                 in August this year, the press was to be found
THE STANHOPE PRESS.                            unloved and ignored, grudgingly given a space
                                               round the back of the cloakroom and next
     In 1978, a helpful book, “The Common      to the toilets....well, at least a lot of Library
Press” by Elizabeth M Harris and Clinton       visitors sƟll get to see it that way, even though
Sisson was published by the Smithsonian        they have no idea what it is.
InsƟtuƟon in Washington DC.
                                                    So if the BriƟsh Library has no use for a
     Its full Ɵtle is actually “Common Press:          replica common press, what would
Being a Record, DescripƟon and                                   I do with one, as a private
DelineaƟon of the Early                                                individual living in an
Eighteenth Century                                                         ordinary house?
Handpress in the                                                                   Perhaps many
Smithsonian                                                                    members of
InsƟtuƟon”, and                                                                 BPS have the
its inspiraƟon                                                                  experience of
was the exhibit                                                                 starƟng a project
held by the                                                                     that turned out
Smithsonian,                                                                   to be way bigger
a wooden hand                                                                than they ever
press supposed                                                             realised it would be
to have been used                                                      at the beginning. Thus
by Benjamin Franklin in                                          it was with me. My hobby is
the 1720s during a sƟnt as a                           re-enacƟng with the English Civil War
journeyman printer in London. The press was
studied and replicated; then the instrucƟons   Society, and in 1994 I’d seen a press at an
and plans to ‘make your own’ were given.       event and found it fascinaƟng. I hadn’t seen
Everything from how to cut the wood, how       the press since then, so I thought it would be
to forge the iron, how to prepare the tympan   a great thing to revive 17th century prinƟng
and frisket…all included.                      demonstraƟons, and wouldn’t be treading
                                               on anyone’s toes. My husband liked the idea
     Since then, several insƟtuƟons and        of the building project and we started out. A
individuals in the UK and elsewhere have       re-enacƟng friend in Leeds had tried the idea

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