The Stinehour Press: Half a Century of Fine Printing in the Northeast Kingdom

By Hall, Elton W. | The Chronicle of the Early American Industries Association, Inc., September 2009 | Go to article overview

The Stinehour Press: Half a Century of Fine Printing in the Northeast Kingdom


Hall, Elton W., The Chronicle of the Early American Industries Association, Inc.


On the morning of July 15, 2008, I arose early and drove north from South Dartmouth, Massachusetts, 225 miles to The Stinehour Press in Lunenburg, Vermont. The purpose of the trip was to purchase and to encourage others to purchase as much as possible of the outstanding collection of metal type assembled by fellow EAIA member Roderick Stinehour during the course of about a half-century of his ownership of the Press. I had recently learned that the type and related material were all destined for the smelter.

As a business, The Stinehour Press did not fall into the time frame that normally encompasses EAIA interests, but the work it did is representative of a craft and manufacturing tradition that goes back to the middle of the fifteenth century in Mainz, Germany, and Johannes Gutenburg's monumental printing of the Bible from movable type. That trade was brought to the New World first by the Spanish colonists in Mexico and in 1639 to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where the first press in British North America was established by Stephen Daye. From then on, printing proliferated in colonial America until by the end of the eighteenth century there were printing shops dispersed throughout the thirteen colonies and further to the west.1

Owning a printing shop was a struggle throughout the colonial period. Essential to survival was building up sufficient business to make a living. Fortunately, Americans were news-hungry people, and many cities and towns in America had newspapers before larger cities in England. It was almost essential for a colonial printer to publish a newspaper, which gave him a flywheel of business that he could augment by job printing for local businesses. Stationery, billheads, labels, advertisements, and notices of various kinds were his ordinary business. If he could get an appointment as printer to some level of government, then that would bring him forms and reports to print, and he might get a certain amount of book work. If the printer were successful in procuring jobs, then he had to be able to fill the orders. Printing required tools and supplies that were never readily available in the colonies: presses, type, and paper. Setting up a printing office required more capital than many other trades, and it was needed all at once.

Apprenticeship followed by a period as journey- man was the usual route to becoming a master printer. Some widows took over printing shops upon the death of their husbands. There were a number of likely young printers who got their starts under the sponsorship of Benjamin Franklin. Having made his own fortune and mark as a printer, Franklin invested in other shops in partnership with printers in whom he felt confident, providing them with some of the materials they needed to get going.

As the nineteenth century progressed, some significant advances were made in printing equipment. Beginning with Gutenberg and throughout the eighteenth century, the common press, a massive, wood-framed structure, was the standard printing press. Slow moving and cumbersome, it took a lot of tinkering and fine-tuning to produce a uniform impression. The platen was moved by a screw, and a good pressman assisted by a good helper might produce two hundred sheets per hour.2 In the nineteenth century as the industrial revolution warmed up and the pace of industry quickened, printing equipment moved along with it. The great contribution to turning printing from a craft to an industry was Friedrich Koenig's invention of the steam-powered cylinder press in 1811. The first edition of the London Times printed on Koenig's machine appeared November 29, 1814, printed at the rate of eleven hundred sheets per hour. At the same time, ingenious inventors were developing iron-framed hand presses with various mechanical improvements in the means of applying pressure to the platen. In about 1860, Lord Stanhope in England built a press the frame of which was one massive iron casting. George Clymer of Philadelphia built an iron-framed press with a series of compound levers to exert pressure on the platen. …

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