PRODUCTION, FORM AND
THE EARLIER NINETEENTH century, covered in the previous volume in this series, saw the triumph of the machine across all areas of book production with the exception of typesetting, and even there composing by hand had reached unprecedented speeds and efficiencies. Skilled compositors could set about 2,000 letters an hour. In papermaking, the introduction of the Fourdrinier machine, producing paper through a continuous process, increased output by a factor of ten, from a maximum of 100 pounds each day to 1,000 pounds plus, becoming more and more efficient with more complex and powerful machinery, much of which was developed by the two Bertrams’ factories in Edinburgh and exported worldwide. The economic effect of this was to reduce the cost of paper by half over the period from the beginning of the nineteenth century until 1880. The insatiable demand of the papermills for raw material – major mills consumed some 5,000 tons of rags every year – led to a search for new sources of cellulose. Wood pulp and, more characteristic of the Scottish mills, esparto grass, imported from southern Spain and North Africa, became standard. The rolls or webs of paper fed the large rotary printing machines that had replaced hand presses for volume production.
The period prior to 1880 also saw the gradual replacement of letterpress printing by lithography. Although the latter process, using polished stones, had been discovered by Senefelder at the end of the eighteenth century, it remained too expensive for other than individual prints or illustrations in high-priced books. Its ability to reproduce a wide variation of tones and textures suited it to the reproduction of photographs from mid-nineteenth century onwards. This roughly coincided with the development of treated metal plates in the place of stones making the process both cheaper and more flexible.