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Vol. 12, No. 1
November 1999

Mercurial Matters

Old and New Media

News of Members

Editorial: Seduced by a "First”

2000 in Munich

Nina Wormbs wins Robinson Prize

Information Networks and Urban Spaces

Book Review:
Science in Public

Lemelson Center Fellows Program

News of the Field:
Printing History on the Web

Audio History Library

Westinghouse Films from 1904

What can "Old Technologies" Teach us about Digital Culture?

Recent and Upcoming Conferences

Journal of Radio Studies

New Edition of Bibliography


Telephone Collectors International

SHOT Session Query: Mechanical to Electrical

A Victorian Internet?

Contact Us

Mercurians Back Button

Printing History on the Web

Much of the work on the history of printing treats it as the story of a craft, with successive generations of printing technologies gradually reducing the printer’s trade to nothing. In such traditional versions of history, printing begins with Gutenberg and ends with the Linotype machines of the late 19th century. From another perspective, changes in printing technology have made printing available to an increasingly wider group of organizations and individuals, who have created explosive growth in the volume of printed material. The printing technologies introduced since the Linotype are less familiar but still important components of communications history.

Web resources on these more recent technologies are thin, but a sampling of them reveals some interesting observations. The most prominent discovery is that many forms of “obsolete” printing technologies are still in use. Several companies advertise the availability of Linotype machines and their associated printing presses. Office printing technologies such as stencil and spirit duplication (“mimeograph” and “ditto” machines) are still made and supplies are still available. Offset presses of the type introduced in the early part of this century are still widely in use. A second discovery is that owners of independent print shops seem particularly interested in their own history, and have set up numerous web sites to celebrate it. A fairly large number of company web sites with historical sections reveal how many small shops survived the transition from one printing technology to the next.

Some useful Web sites:
•The Linotype name is still very much alive as Linotype-Hell, making digital imaging products.
•A.B. Dick Company, which developed the first Mimeograph in 1887, and Gestetner Company, which manufactured spirit duplicators for offices, both maintain historical web sites.
•For all of you out there who loved sniffing those mimeograph fumes, read the results of the following study on the effects of office duplicator fumes on teachers.
(“Methanol Exposure Among School Workers During Spirit Duplicator Use,” from OSH-DB, an occupational safety and health database)
•Additional information on early 20th century office and home printing technologies is at Yesterday’s Office
•Xerox Corporation devotes surprisingly little attention to the history of photocopying, publishing only a brief description of work on technologies such as the laser printer
•Other sources for printing technologies associated with the computer can be found through the Charles Babbage Institute, particularly in the Burroughs and Irving L. Wieselman collections.
•On general printing history, visit the Printing History Society. Their web site includes a subject-title index of the entire run of the journal Printing History

David Morton