Publishing Educator Opines on Shared Late Colonial Printing Forms – Part I

in about Warren

Author: Wayne McCarthy, Waltham Public Schools and Past Captain Commanding of the Lexington Minute Men

Date: Jan-Feb 1773

Source: Massachusetts Spy, Vol. II, issue 104, suppl, January 29, 1773; and Essex Gazette, Vol. V, Issue 136, pp. 1-2 suppl, February 9, 1773

Several authorities have taken note of the apparently identical printings of the Massachusetts’ House of Representatives’ answer to Governor Thomas Hutchinson’s New Year 1773 speech. The newspapers involved are the Massachusetts Spy and Essex Gazette, periodicals among the most outspoken, most closely associated with New England Patriot activism, and the first reporting of key events. Apparently no other instance is yet known of the identical type form appearing under ostensibly separate publishers. I discovered it coincidentally when transcribing from facsimiles of the original newspapers. As of January 21, 2013, several explanations have been advanced. These are testable by way of expert side-by-side comparison of original, hard copy examples of the specific newspaper issues. Whatever the answer, it can advance our understanding of information dissemination strategies of the Boston Committee of Correspondence, and coordination among publishers and political activists.

  1. The printings are not truly from the same type form, but rather artifactually and falsely appear to be so.
  2. The identical type form was set up and used first by Isaiah Thomas’ Massachusetts Spy in Boston, then transported to Salem for use by Hall’s Essex Gazette.
  3. The identical type form was used by Isaiah Thomas in Boston to publish the article once under his own masthead and again under the borrowed masthead of the Essex Gazette. Alternatively, the Essex Gazette received the printed sheets and added their own masthead in Salem in a second impression.

Here is how Mr. McCarthy formulated things:

“I have looked at all four files you sent over. First I compared each column of type on the pages with the mastheads. The type fonts are all the same, with ligatures and hyphens consistent from one to the other. Differences between the two images you sent can be attributed to the exposure to different environments / reproduction / scanning / copying of newsprint that has been stored, folded, or bound for a couple of hundred years, and being made into electronic files. Not having the actual pages from which the pdf files were made makes it a bit difficult to make out very fine details. I put the two images into Photoshop and laid one on top of the other into a combined pdf image. It becomes obvious that the printed pages were made from the same lock-ups. Not only the letters that you see on the printed page are individual pieces, so too are the spaces between them and between lines of type, and between the column ends and dividing vertical rules.

Looking at the similarities in the column dividing lines, it is also clear that they are consistent from one to the other. Some of the type differences can be attributed to the person applying the ink (heavy or light, even or uneven) and the actual impression of ink to paper (the amount of pressure applied using the press arm). Again, 20th century copying and scanning, etc., can account for any differences.

In the 18th century fonts were extremely expensive and it would seem unlikely that they would print on one press in one shop, and then ship the valuable letters to another print shop to go through the process again. Besides the weight of shipping wooden or lead type a great distance, the type would have been locked-up into rectangles for the press using blocks, quoins, etc. to make everything square. Travel on 18th century roads would have undoubtedly dislodged at least one piece of type (which I didn’t find). The tolerances involved in the printing process were (are) critical in making the printing readable (the thickness of the ink and degree of pressure in impression can make visible differences in the final product).

It seems more likely that one shop printed the text common to both and then shipped the printed paper pieces to another shop. There they would have their masthead (large engraved pieces that could be used over and over again for each new edition of the paper) and the advertising (on the lower right of the page) imprinted onto those pre-printed sheets. It would be a similar process to two-color printing. Since they were collaborating in Committees of Correspondence, and that it was critical that the messages be exactly the same (a single mistake or typo might make a huge difference) it is likely they shared the detail work amongst those responsible for getting the message out. They were really great at proof-reading, but I’d venture to say that it is unlikely that they would have been as accurate over as many pieces of type as appears in the two pages you’ve sent me.

I also found one or two spots where the errors were repeated from one document to the other. But it looked more as if a worn piece of type was used and the ink didn’t sit properly on either copy.”  To be continued in Part II

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