Printing Press Research

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An Albion Printing Press, 1856, currently on display in Carlow County Museum. It was used for decades by local newspapers The Nationalist and the Leinster Times.

How printing started

Printing was not invented by Johannes Gensfleisch Alias Gutenberg instead, it was actually in China that, about 600 years after Christ, the first one sided prints were made. By about 150 years after Christ, the Chinese had also invented paper, the most important medium for printing.

The power of knowledge was, as result of Johannes Gutenberg’s idea, no longer the privilege of only a few. From now on information was not passed as a result of human communication alone. It developed into an asset which was available when needed, could be carried around and was easy to come by. Gutenberg’s idea was to widen the horizons of printing, to become flexible, versatile, and independent. Gutenberg’s “system” was an ideal combination of multiple individual well-thought out inventions, completely equal with modern technical complexes. Letters which could be varied as required, a metal mould, a manual casting device, a special alloy, a press, printing ink with particular properties and a certain kind of paper- only with this combination was success possible.

Printing was called the “black art” in the beginning as people could not understand how someone could produce books so quickly or how they could all be exactly alike, people feared printing and thought it derived from Satan yet despite this the use of printing became very popular and quickly spread all throughout Europe.1

Different types of printing

  1. Letterpress printing- With Letterpress printing, the printing parts are raised. The flat type form is inked with small rollers, then the impression cylinder, which carries the sheet of paper, rolls over the printing surface.
  2. Rotary relief printing- This process is mainly used by daily newspapers. Here, too, the printing parts are raised but the type form is round. The impression cylinder presses the paper against it.
  3. Offset printing- Offset printing is based on the physical law that water and oil repel one another. The printing surface is treated photographically and chemically so that the printing parts absorb ink and all the other parts repel it. In offset printing a zinc aluminium plate bearing the type form is wrapped round a cylinder and first prints onto a rubber cylinder, which then prints onto paper. Because the type form does not come into contact with the paper (hence “off set”) it is possible to produce large numbers of copies.
  4. Rotogravure printing- This is used mainly for producing coloured magazines with a high circulation. The printing parts are carved into the surface of a copper cylinder. After the whole cylinder has been inked, a scraper, or doctor blade, moves across the surface, and only the ink on the engraved parts of the cylinder remains and is taken up by the paper.2

Printing in Ireland

Printing did not arrive in Ireland until 1551 when Humphrey Powell printed The Boke of Common Praier. This first book in Irish type was paid for by Elizabeth I and was probably manufactured in London.

In 1571 an unidentified printer printed Aibidil Gaoidheilge Agus Caiticiosma, the first book using the Irish character.3

In the 1800’s, the newspapers cost sixpence each- quite a lot of money in those days- one penny of which was a special “tax on knowledge” put there to inflate the price so that lower orders would not be able to purchase papers and be influenced by their ideas into anti-government activity. Published weekly, and very rarely bi-weekly, their circulation normally varied from 3,000 upwards.4

Local printing

It is not known exactly when the printing press was established in Carlow… it was early in 1770, when the “Carlow Journal” was founded by William Kinnier, Kinneir or Kinnear, as it was variously spelled.5

The founders of the Nationalist and Leinster Times, Patrick Conlan and his brother John extended the circulation of the newspaper through counties Carlow, Kildare and Laoighs. On the death of Patrick Conlan at an early age of 46 his brother John continued for some time to direct and edit the Nationalist.6

References:

  1. ‘A History of Irish Printing’, National Print Museum, https://www.nationalprintmuseum.ie/
  2. ‘How the job is done’, Hans-Werner Klien, The Nationalist and Leinster Times 1883-1983 p.13
  3. ‘A History of Irish Printing’, National Print Museum, https://www.nationalprintmuseum.ie/
  4. ‘Carlow Newspapers 1828-1841’, Brother P.J. Kavanagh, M.A., Carloviana 1975 p.26-28.
  5. ‘Printing In Carlow’, Brian W. Keogh, Carloviana 1994/1995 p.12.
  6. ‘How, where and when they founded: The Nationalist’, William Ellis, The Nationalist and Leinster Times 1883-1983 p.2

 

This piece has been researched and written by Andrea Istrati, Transition Year Student, St. Leo’s College, Carlow as part of her work experience in Carlow County Museum. The Transition Year ‘Be Involved Volunteer Programme’ is organised by the Carlow Volunteer Centre.

 

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