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Printer Theodore L. De Vinne Critically Analyzes Advances in Book Production Made in the 19th Century

Bust of Theodore Low De Vinne by Chester Beach

Bust of Theodore Low De Vinne by Chester Beach

In 1901 at the beginning of the 20th century, New York printer and historian of printing Theodore Low de Vinne  published "Printing in the Nineteenth Century" in The 19th Century: A Review of Progress During the Past One Hundred Years in the Chief Departments of Human Activity. Reprinted, under arrangement, from The New York Evening Post of January 12, 1901 (1901). In this paper De Vinne, a master of all aspects of the printing trade, including the production of large edition books and high circulation magazines, reviewed critically the enormous advances in printing and book production during the 19th century that had taken book production from essentially a hand craft to a modern industrial process. He concluded his essay as follows:

"The nineteenth has been a century of wonderful achievement in every branch of printing. The Fourdrinier paper-making machine, the Bruce type-caster, the Linotype type-casting and type-setting machine, and other mechanical type-setters of merit; composition inking-rollers, the cylinder press, the web press, and mechanisms of many kinds for the rapid printing of the smallest label or the largest sheet in black or many colours, machines for folding, sewing, and binding books; the arts of stereotype, electrotype, and photo-engraving—all these are its outgrowth, and the more important have been invented or made practicable within the memory of men now living. It is a summary of which the printing trade may be proud; but whehter printers have made the best use of their great advantages is another question not be answered too confidently. Printing was never done better and never done worse; never was cheaper, never was dearer, than it is to-day. It has never been furnished in so large a quantity at so small a price. For two or more cents can be had a newspaper with more reading-matter than would fill a stout octavo volume. Yet books are made and sold in limited editions to eager subscribers at prices ranging from five to fifty dollars a volume. There is much difference of opinion concerning the quality of printing now done. William Morris maintained that printing had gone steadily from bad to worse until he revived its best features. Many publishers maintain, with more reason, that books of real value for instruction or amusement were never better fitted than they now are for usefulness to all classes of readers."

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