In 1831 writer and publisher Charles Knight of London issued a book entitled The Working-Man's Companion. The Results of Machinery, Namely Cheap Production and Increased Employment, intended for working men, and also presumably women, who were concerned, with justification, that mechanization was eliminating their jobs or lowering their wages. Notably Knight published this work anonymously, as part of a series he was issuing for the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (SDUK).
Knight devoted much of his publishing career to making books and periodicals affordable to all. However, up until the Panic of 1825, when he lost all his funds in the crash, Knight had been a conventional publisher issuing from London during 1823 to 1825 several expensive books with hand-colored plates. After he suffered financial collapse, Knight was fortunate to get into business with the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, a group of influential educators and politicians who wished to publish at reasonable prices for the working classes. Their interests dovetailed perfectly with Knight's goals of applying the new technologies to issue better books of high quality very cheaply, and all the business that Knight did with the SDUK greatly helped him recover financially, and increase his business overall.
Always a booster for technology, he was also one of the first to write about the socio-economic advantages of the mechanized, rather than the hand-printed book, and he was unique among English publishers of the period in his numerous writings to promote the new mechanized book production technology. In The Results of Machinery Knight explained how mechanization of papermaking and printing had increased the speed of book production while reducing costs during the previous 20 years, thereby greatly widening the market for books, and expanding an industry, and creating tens of thousands of new jobs.
Knight was primarily motivated to write this book by the large-scale Luddite style Swing Riots protesting mechanization of agriculture, which had occurred in the South of England in 1830. His book, which is dated December 28, 1830 on its final page of text, reminds us that the mechanization of book production took place during a period of social resistance to mechanization of various industries. It is also notable that 50,000 copies of Knight's book were sold by the time he issued a new edition in 1845. There were at least three printings in 1831 alone, as my copy is a third edition. Knight wrote, p. 8:
"The difference between those of you who object to machines, and the persons who think with Joseph Foster [that the introduction of machinery in weaving is inevitable] is, as it appears to us, a want of knowledge. We desire to impart to you that knowledge. Now, how shall we set about the business of imparting it? You are many in number and are scattered over a large extent of country; some of you are sorely pressed as we conceive, by the evils that result from a want of knowledge, which make it the more necessary that we should address ourselves to you speedily; and some of you are poor, and therefore have not much spare, even for what you may believe may do you good. You, therefore, want this knowledge to be given to you, extensively, quickly, cheaply. It would be out of our power to impart this knowledge at all without machinery: and, therefore, we have begin by explaing how the machinery, which gives you knowledge of any sort by the means of books, is a vast blessing, when comparted with slower methods of multiplying written language; and how, by the aid of this machinery, we can produce a book for your use, without any limit point of the number of copies, with great rapidity, and at a small price.
"It is about 350 years since the art of printing books was invented. Before that time all books were written by the hand. There were many persons employed to copy out books, but they were very dear, although the copiers had small wages. A Bible was sold for thirty pounds in the money of that day, which was equal to a great deal more of our money. Of course, very few people had Bibles or any other books. An ingenious man invented a mode of imitating the written books by cutting the letters on wood, and taking off copies from the wooden blocks by rubbing the sheet on the back; and soon after other clever men thought of casting metal types or letters, which could be arranged in words, and sentences, and pages, and volumes; and then a machine, called a printing-press, upon the principle of a screw, was made to stamp impressions of these types so arranged. There was an end, then, at once to the trade of the pen-and-ink copiers; because the copiers in types, who could press several hundred books while the writers were producing one, drove them out of the market. A single printer could do the work of at least two hundred writers. At first sight this seems a hardship, for a hundred and ninety-nine people might have been, and probably were, thrown out of their accustomed employment. But what was the consequence in a year or two? Where one written book was sold, a thousand printed books were required. The old books were multiplied in all countries, and new books were composed by men of talent and learning, because they could then find numerous readers. The printing-press did the work more neatly and more correcdtly than the writer, and it did it infinitely cheaper. What then? The writers of books had to turn their hands to some other trade, it is true, but type-founders, paper-makers, printers, and bookbinders, were set to work, by the new art or machine, to at least a hundred times greater number of persons than the old way of making books employed. If the pen-and-ink copiers could break the printing-presses, and melt down the types that are used in London alone at the present day twenty thousand people would at least be thrown out of employment to make room for two hundred at the utmost; and what would be even worse than all this misery, books could only be purchased, as before the invention of printing, by the few rich, instead of being the guides, and comforters, and best friends, of the millions who are now within reach of the benefits and enjoyments which they bestow.
"The cheapness of production is the great point to which we shall call your attention, as we give you other examples of the good of machinery. In the case of books produced by the printing-press you have a cheap article, and an increased number of persons engaged in manufacturing that article. In almost all trades the introduction of machines has, sooner or later the like effects. This we shall show you as we go on. But to make the matter even more clear, we shall direct your notice to the very book you hold in your hand, to complete our illustration of the advantages of machinery to the consumer, that is, to the person who wants and buys the article consumed, as well as to the producer, or the person who manufactures the article produced.
"This little book is intended to consist of 216 pages, to be printed, eighteen on a side upon six sheets of printing paper, called by the makers demy. These six sheets of demy, at the price charged in the shops, would cost four-pence. If the same number of words were written, instead of being printed—that is, if the closeness and regularity of printing were superseded by the looseness and unevenness of writing,—they would cover 200 pages, or 50 sheets, of the paper called foolscap, which would cost in the shops three shillings; and you would have a book difficult instead of easy to read,because writing is much harder to decipher than print. Here, then, besides the superiority of the workmanship, is at once a saving of two shillings and eight pence to the consumer, by the invention of printing, all other things being equal. But the great saving is to come. Work as hard as he could, a writer could not transcribe this little book upon these 200 pages of foolscap in less than ten days; and he would think himself very ill paid to receive thirty shillings for the operation. Adding, therefore, a profit for the publisher and retail tradesman, a single written copy of this little book, which you buy for a shilling could not be produced for two pounds. Is it not perfectly clear, then if there were no printing-ress, if the art of printing did not exist, that if we found purchasers at all for this dear book at the cost of two pounds, we should only sell, a the utmost, a fortieth part of what we now sell; that instead of selling ten thousand copies could only sell, even if there wree the same quantity of book-buying funds amongst the few purchasers as amongst the many, two hundred and fifty copies; and that therefore, although we might employ two hundred and fifty writers for a week, instead of about twenty printers in the same period, we should have forty times less employment for paper-makers, ink-makers, book-binders, and many other persons, besides the printers themselves, who are called into activity by the large demand which follows cheapness of production.
"You will perceive, without having the subject dwelt upon, that if we could not give you this book cheaply, we could not give it to you extensively; that, in fact, the book would be useless; that it would be a mere curiosity; that we should not attempt to multiply and copies, because those whose use it was intended for could not buy it. It is also perfectly clear, that if, by any unnatural reduction of the wages of labor, such as happens to the Hindoo, who works at weaving muslin for about sixpence a week, we could get copiers to produce the book as cheaply as the printing-press (which is impossible,) we could not send it to the world as quickly. We can get ten thousand copies of this book printed in a week, by the aid of about twelve compositors, and two printing machines, each machine requiring two boys and a man for its guidance. To transcribe ten thousand copies in the same time would require more than ten thousand penmen. Is it not perfectly evident, therefore, that if printing, which is a cheap and a rapid process, were once again superseded by writing, which is an expensive and slow operation, neither this book, nor any other book, could be prodcued for the use of the people, that knowledge, upon which every hope of bettering your condition must ultimately rest, would again become the property of a very few; and that mankind would lose the greater part of that power, which has made, as is making them truly independent, and which will make them virtuous and happy?
"The same principle applies to any improvement of the machinery used in printing, or in the manufacture of the paper upon which books are printed. By the use of the printing machine, instead of the printing press, (which machine is only profitably applicable to books printed in large numbers,) the cost of production is diminished at least one-tenth; and by the use of the machine for making paper, a better article is produced, also at a lower rate. This book is printed upon paper as fine as is needful for comfortable reading, instread of paper of a wretched quality; because the paper-machine had diminished the cost of production, by working up the pulp of which paper is composed more evenly, and therefore with a saving. And from both causes united, the diminished price of printing by the machine instead of printing by hand, and the diminished price of machine-made paper, the buyers of this book have six sheets, or 216 pages instead of five sheets, or 180 pages, for a shilling. Thus, not only is the price lessened to the consumer, by the increase of the quantity, but one-sixth more paper, one-sixth more more ink, one-sixth more labor of the compositor or printer who arranges the types, one-sixth more labor of the sewer or binder of the book; all these additions of direct labor and of materials produced by labor are consumed. In selling you this book, therefore, for a shilling, we give you a sixth more matter than you could have had without these new inventions; if we were to take that sixth in quantity, we could lessen the price, and give you the smaller book for tenpence. Thus, there is a decided advantage to the consumer in the diminished cost of the production, and an ample equivalent in mere labor, (which, bear always in mind, is the means of producing commodities, and not the end for which they are produced,) in the place of labor thrust out by the printing-machine and the paper-machine.
"We cannot conclude this branch of our subject without one other illustration. About seven years ago the art of engraving on steel was invented; this art arose out of an attempt to multiply plates by machinery. It was said that this art would ruin the engravers as a body; for as steel-plates would not wear out with printing twenty thousand copies, and copper-plates could not give more than a thousand impressions, one steel-plate would stand in the place of twenty copper ones. Yet engravers, as a body, were never so numerous or so flourishing as they are at this moment; simply because steel-plates having made engravings cheap, numbers can have the pleasure of possessing prints, which were formerly only within the reach of a very few. The class of books called Annuals, which consist each of ten or twelve beautiful engravings, with amusing reading at a moderate price, and of which at least one hundred thousand copies are sold, having cost in their production about £50,000, could never had existed without the invention of steel engraving; and there are many other publications of landscapes,views of buildings, maps, &c. which, being rendered cheap by steel engravings, have produced exactly the same effects of increasing the enjoyments of the consumers, and bettering the condition and increasing the numbers of the producers.
"We think that in the article of Books we have proved to you that machinery has rendered productions cheaper, and has increased the demand for manual labor, and consequently the number of laborers; and that, therefore, machinery applied to books is not objectionable...."
This writing by Charles Knight came to my attention in February 2016 when I read portions of another book that I had acquired by Knight entitled Capital and Labour; Including The Results of Machinery (London: Charles Knight & Co., 1845). Knight's initial work in this 1845 volume, Capital and Labour, a basic work on economics, was also originally published in 1831 as The Working-Man's Companion. The Rights of Industry. The original cloth binding of the 1845 combined edition has blind-stamped on its covers: Knight's Weekly Volume for All Readers." Knight inscribed my copy on the front free endpaper: "To Geo. Nicholls Esq With the author's respectful Compts." Nicholls, a British Poor Law Commissioner, was a particularly appropriate recipient for the book. Knight's "Advertisement" prefacing his 1845 book helps place his 1831 work in perspective:
" 'The Results of Machinery' was written in by me at a period of great national alarm, when a blind rage against a power supposed to interfere with the claims of Labour was generally prevalent, and led, in the Southern agricultural districts expecially, to many acts of daring violence. That little book had a most extensive sale, and is still in constant demand. Fifty thousand copies have been sold since its first publication. I wrote a second tract, 'Capital and Labour,' which was to form part of a Series entitled 'The Rights of Industry.' This Series I never could find leisure to proceed with. It has appeared to me that the two parts might be advantageously incorporated. Machinery, in connexion with Capital and Labour, is one of the great instruments of Production. In this Volume, then, thus remodelled, the general object of The Production of Wealth is fully, though, popularly expounded. The original tracts were especially addressed to Working Men. This volume is addressed to all. The statistical details are brought up to the present time."
Knight followed up his 1831 publications on economics with another anonymous work that he issued in 1834: Trades Unions and Strikes.
This short book he wrote in response to the major labor strikes in several industries that occurred in that year, especially in the textile mills, both in England and the U.S.