The London Compositor: Documents Relating to Wages, Working Conditions and Customs of the London Printing Trade, 1785-1900

The London Compositor: Documents Relating to Wages, Working Conditions and Customs of the London Printing Trade, 1785-1900

The London Compositor: Documents Relating to Wages, Working Conditions and Customs of the London Printing Trade, 1785-1900

The London Compositor: Documents Relating to Wages, Working Conditions and Customs of the London Printing Trade, 1785-1900

Excerpt

Research into the social and economic history of the printing, bookbinding, bookselling and allied trades has in the past been somewhat neglected. The connection between such studies and other bibliographical investigations is important, since the physical appearance of any printed document depends largely upon the technical methods used in its manufacture, and these in turn are closely related to economic factors. From the time of the Industrial Revolution onwards, the key to the understanding of the economic and social history of any trade is to be found, where they survive, in the archives of the appropriate Trade Union, or "continuous association of wage earners for the purpose of maintaining or improving the conditions of their working lives". The purpose of this book, therefore, is to print and elucidate the principal documents relating to arrangements between masters and men: wages, working conditions and customs of the London printing trade from 1785 until the end of the nineteenth century. This covers the period during which the trade was transformed from a manual craft, using a technique almost identical with that already developed by 1500, into a fully mechanized industry.

The year 1785 represents a convenient point of departure, since in that year was negotiated the first known agreement between the principal master printers and a compositors' trade union. It is important to note that the employers, who made certain written concessions in respect of piece-work prices, probably had no official mandate from the masters at large, while those who accepted the new terms on behalf of the compositors represented a bustling and energetic minority. Some forty master printers signed the document setting forth the revised prices. There were at that date at least one hundred and twenty-four London printing offices. In 1793, when further agreements were made, some seven hundred compositors put their signatures to resolutions or petitions, but Union discipline had not yet become strong and there were plenty who were apathetic or who were compelled to accept worse terms from the smaller masters.

The novel character of the 1785 agreement can be better appreciated if we consider an earlier state of affairs. In the sixteenth and . . .

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