In his illustrated essay, "The Printing of 'The Century' published in The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine Vol. 41, November 1890, pp. 87-99, scholar printer Theodore Low De Vinne eloquently described and illustrated advances in printing machines, paper, ink, the reproduction of illustrations, and advances in bindery machinery that had improved the quality of magazine production within the previous twenty years. The most obvious improvements that De Vinne noted may have been to the subtle gradations of tone in electrotype illustrations generously spread throughout De Vinne's essay. Other revolutionary developments included the web press that printed on a continuous role of paper.
De Vinne introduced his essay as follows, referring in his initial paragraph to Charles Knight's The Penny Magazine that pioneered high circulation magazine publishing, and was probably the first publication to reproduce woodcuts by printing machinery, roughly 60 years earlier:
"There was a general belief twenty years ago that the materials, methods, and machinery of magazine printing had nearly reached full development. Old publishers and printers said that it was unreasonable to expect better paper or finer presswork; it was absurd to hope for higher results by changing the methods of printing which had been sanctioned by long experience. Most emphatically was the proposition laid down that fine printing could not be done with speed or at low cost. If finer paper were wanted, that paper must be of superior fiber and hot pressed, at a price necessarily prohibitory. It was folly to talk of better engraving. The London school of engravers had already reached the high-water mark of close woodcutting; but while they had fully shown the ability to cut finely, printers had signally shown the inability of printing machinery to print their blocks property. The 'Penny Magazine,' useful and meritorious as it was in many features, was a warning of the folly of attempting to print good woodcuts on cylinder presses. Designers of merit had refused to draw upon blocks that would be spoiled in printing. Some of the abler engravers had abandoned the practice of engraving on wood in despair at the unworthy reproduction of their best efforts by the printers.
"The printing trade here had made similar experiments and had reached the similar conclusion, that fine printing can be done only on the hand press. English writers on engraving had oracularly declared that the priovince of engraving on wood was limited to the delineation of form only; that it could acceptably produce light and shade only in a conventional style; that it was presumptuous for an engraver on wood to attempt any serious deviation from the outline style of Dürer and Holbein."
With respect to printing machines De Vinne illustrated, among others, two perfecting presses: "The web press for printing and folding sixty-four unillustrated pages at one revolution," and his "New rotary press for printing sixty-four illustrated pages at one revolution." De Vinne makes no mention of whether his printing machines were then powered by electricity or if they still relied upon steam.
Based upon the illustrations it appears that most printing processes were done by men, and binding operations were primarily done by women.
At this point in time all typesetting at The Century Magazine was still done by hand.
De Vinne concluded his essay with the following paragraph:
"Twenty years is but a short interval in the chronology of an art that is more than four hundred years old, but a good deal has been done for the improvement of printing between the years 1870 and 1890. Cylinder presses have supplanted hand and platen presses in printing woodcuts and large editions of fine books. Dry paper has taken the place of damp paper. In many large printing houses the appliances for dampening have been abolished, or set aside to be used only for rough and hand-made papers. Smooth-surface papers of moderate price have been introduced that take a sharper impression and show cleaner grays and more viorous blacks than can be had from impressions on the luxurious India and Japan papers. Easy working and durable black inks are as common now as they were scarce twenty years ago. Electrotype plates are made of smooth surface, and are curved with unharmed lines, to fit the cylinders of rotary printing machines on which they produce presswork that fully meets the most exacting requirements. Last, but not least, the final pressing of the printed work, which makes a solid and shapely magazine, is done more quickly and more thoroughly by pressing in the fold than was ever done when the work was pressed in sheets. Some of these items may seem of trifling importance to the reader. Singly, they may be; collectively, they are not. Whoever compares the first number of this magazine with the latest, must admit that decided improvements have been made in magazine printing. In the literary workshop of which John Milton dreamed, 'the pens and heads, sitting by studious lamps, musing, searching, revolving new notions and ideas,' were those only who thought and wrote. Now, the thinkers have mechanical helpers. In machine shops and paper mills, in printing houses and electrotype foundries, are other studious men equally busy in mechanical devices that aid the writers in realizing this dream of the 'Areopagitica.' "