Sunday, 13 April 2008

Type Case, Composing Frame, etc

The lay of the case: upper case (capital letters) on top, and lower case (minuscules) below.

A 17th century composing frame from Oxford, in the St Bride's Printing Museum and Library
in London.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

My first letterpress machine - an Arab platen press

I acquired this Arab treadle platen press, with 70 cases of type, in about 1988, and set it up in the Star Brewery in Lewes, where I shared a space with four other artists and also did my paintings (see my blog: The press and type came originally from the Ditchling Press, and the word was that it had been used by David Jones and Eric Gill.

Tom Paine: The Power of the Printing Press

Paine and the Power of the Printing Press; Printing in Lewes

The printing press had spread the words of the vernacular bible (Gutenburg’s first printed bible appeared about 1455), and had encouraged a more literal translation and interpretation. Wycliffe and the Lollards had spread their message through the south of England. In 1538 Tyndale’s new translation of the Bible appeared in every church in the country.

William Lee (1713-86), a native of Chichester, published and printed The Lewes Journal from 1745, and was joined for a few years by Verrall. [see Colin Brent's Georgian Lewes, p124. Verrall had been paid by the Borough to print notices during the smallpox outbreak of 1731]. Lee was the founder and printer of Lewes’s weekly newspaper, The Sussex Weekly Advertiser; or, The Lewes Journal, was, with Paine, a member of the political discussion club, now popularly known as the Headstrong Club. Coloured by Whiggery and republicanism, the Journal reprinted the letters of ‘Junius,’ attacking the government. Other articles criticised the British state and its colonial system, ‘Tory tormenters,’ English despotism, the nobility, the gulf between rich and poor, superstition (in the name of ‘liberty of the mind,’ ‘plain truth’ and ‘common sense,’ and praised public virtue.

Lee was a great supporter of Wilkes, whom he viewed as a ‘great patriot.’ In August 1770, Wilkes passed through Lewes, where he was given a hero’s welcome with pealing bells and applauding crowds, and it is possible that Paine met him on this occasion. All raised the cry of ‘Wilkes and Liberty,’ evidence that Wilkes’s appeal to the people and the ‘rights of electors’ met with popular support. By his raising the question of rights, Wilkes had brought into the area of public debate the crucial issues of the basic rights of the people (i.e. the King’s subjects), the relationship between the electorate (at that time only a tiny proportion of the population) and its representatives, and public influence on the structures of government and the constitution.

In 1772 (when Paine was still in Lewes), Lee moved his press to 64 High Street, where his sons William (1747-1830) and Arthur (1759-1824) succeeded him.

Lee remembered Paine as ‘a shrewd and sensible fellow’ who displayed an abnormal ‘depth of political knowledge,’ and eulogised him thus:

Immortal PAINE! While mighty reasoners jar,
We crown thee General of the Headstrong War;
Thy logic vanquish’d error, and thy mind
No bounds, but those of right and truth, confined.
Thy soul of fire must sure ascend the sky,
Immortal PAINE, thy fame can never die;
For men like thee their names must ever save
From the black edicts of the tyrant grave.

Paine was reputed to have ‘perseverance in a good cause and obstinacy in a bad one,’ and perhaps some of his conceit arose from the acclaim he received for his performances at the Headstrong Club. During his time in Lewes he also developed his writing skills, and it is possible that he was the author of several pieces in The Lewes Journal. [Letters about his invention of a fire escape, and about the evil practice of parishes transporting sick paupers from parish to parish until they were deposited in their parish of birth]. Lee carried out a certain amount of printing for Paine, notably the The Case of the Officers of Excise.

Paine was dismissed from the excise office after he published a strong argument in 1772, while living and working in Lewes, for an increase in pay as the only way to end corruption in the service. Excisemen were underpaid and disgruntled, and he had been asked to state their case in a petition to Parliament. They wanted not only more pay and better conditions of work, but the right to organise among themselves and to criticise their employer – the Crown. In the summer of 1772 he wrote several documents in this vein, and in late November or December he went on leave to London. Here he spent three months lobbying MPs and others to further the Excisemen’s cause, using as his headquarters the Excise Coffee House in Broad Street.

With sympathetic colleagues he circulated copies of the single sheet tract, A Letter concerning the Nottingham Officers, and a 21-page pamphlet entitled The Case of the Officers of Excise, 4,000 copies of which were printed at William Lee’s Lewes Journal office. Lee also printed the Letter, a leaflet and a petition. Paine sent a copy of The Case of the Officers of Excise to the playright Oliver Goldsmith, a man of radical leanings, and the two became good friends. Goldsmith had already written a biography of Voltaire, and The Deserted Village, a critique of a society ‘where wealth accumulates and men decay.’ Most of the 3,000 English Excisemen signed the petition, but Parliament rejected it outright. When he returned to Lewes in April [?] 1773, he found that he had lost his job.


The Headstrong Club, Lewes, East Sussex, UK

At present I'm reseaching the history of The Headstrong Club in Lewes over the past 22 years. It was founded in 1987, the 250th anniversary ofPaine's birth, by David Powell and John May following the publication of David's book about Tom Paine: The Greatest Exile (Croom Helm, 1985). My intention is to produce a pamphlet on the Headstrong Club as soon as The Tom Paine Printing Press becomes operational in 2009.

More to follow.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

British Library Gutenberg Press event, May 2008

An event at the British Library in May 2008 that might be of interest (the Gutenberg press was the forerunner of the Common Press):

The Machine That Made Us
Gutenberg's Brilliant Invention
Tuesday 6 May 2008

Johann Gutenberg's printing press, which brought about the dawn of mass communication is of barely equalled significance in the development of human culture. His achievement reached its pinnacle with the printing of the Gutenberg Bible in 1455.

A new documentary The Machine That Made Us, presented by Stephen Fry, is screened on BBC4 in Spring 2008, and excerpts will feature in tonights event. For the programme, and in order to unravel mysteries of Gutenberg's technique, a team of experts built a unique copy of his press: watch it action at the event, alongside discussion of the remarkable story behind its invention.

Speakers include Alan May (printing expert and press builder),
Martin Andrews (University of Reading)
and Patrick McGrady (Wavelength Films).
Event time: 18.30 – 20.00
Location: Conference Centre, British Library
Price: £6 (concessions £4)
See British Library Events website

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Peter Chasseaud sets up The Tom Paine Printing Press in Lewes

Introduction by Peter Chasseaud (see also my blog

After many years' planning and preparation, I'm setting up a full-size 18th Century style wooden Common Press (similar to the one shown above) in Lewes, Sussex (home of the Lewes Arms pub, Harvey's beer, the Headstrong Club and many other good things). The press should be up and running by early 2009, and be printing away producing material for the bicentenary of Paine's death in that year, when a big commemorative festival will be held (4th to 14th July) in the town of Lewes.

THE TOM PAINE PRINTING PRESS is my project to set up a working press, as used to print Paine’s massively influential pamphlets and books - Common Sense, The Rights of Man, The Age of Reason, etc. Erected in the environment of an 18th century print room in Lewes, together with type cases, cabinets, frames and the compositor’s ‘stone’, this will be a working press available to contemporary artists and writers to print their own work. It will be capable of woodblock, lino and other relief printing, and of printing letterpress items.

It will provide an excellent educational resource and tourist attraction for Lewes. Posters, broadsheets, pamphlets and books will be printed on the press, which will also be used to instruct students of all ages in the complexities of letterpress technology and the crucial importance of the printed word in disseminating ideas.

I practise as an artist, writer, printmaker and producer of artists’ books (see link to my blog). I've also been a member of the Headstrong Club for 21 years (it was founded in 1987 to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Paine's birth in 1737), latterly a committee member, and was a founder member of the Tom Paine Project, for which I curated four simultaneous exhibitions in Lewes and an American Revolutionary War re-enactment at Firle Place, in the year 2000.

Education modules to be offered by The Tom Paine Printing Press:

Practical Printing (hands-on typesetting and printing of a broadsheet and pamphlet
Printing History
Paper & Bookbinding
History of the Book
Rationalism & the Enlightenment
Printing in Lewes (history)
Contact details:
Peter Chasseaud (Tom Paine Printing Press)
Studio 3S3
Phoenix Arts Association
10-14 Waterloo Place