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Looking for Appropriate Historic Period Printer's Clothing 1820-1850

Started by RPROUT777, July 28, 2006, 01:34:13 AM

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 Hi! new guy  Richard here, Looking for pictures or information on printers clothing outfit. I work at FurnaceTown, Snow Hill, MD . in  a print shop
called Sweet Faith . Time period 1820-1850 letterpress shop . Any help would be a blessing, Thanks Richard.

Dave Hughes

That's quite a tricky question. I would guess there's no uniform as such for printers, they would wear what the general population wore, perhaps with the addition of an apron. I've posted a picture of compositors, dating from about 1850.
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Jeff Zilles [jeffo]

What about this ?

Good try Dave but I have the feeling that a caption dating the comps at 1850 could be the result of a typo or transposition with the real date about 1580.

I would point out that pantaloons and stockings with lacy garters had well ceased to be the go by 1820 and the young fellow's stiff coat would have him at a sad disadvantage and help render him near crippled by the time he had set twenty lines of pica - then I suppose one must make allowances for artistic licence.

His armament of a ten or twelve inch dirk-like dagger would generally have been replaced with a pistol by 1820 or a revolver by 1850 and he would only need to carry such a weapon if the shop was engaged in the production of subversive literature of some sort.

The case layout is a bit suspect too, I may well stand corrected but I feel that unless he were setting headline caps material, the case boxes by the middle of the 19th century would be smaller and more numerous - the cases I inherited from a shop established in 1864 and possibly bought new then were two sets of caps in some and a pretty standard, if worn and gritty lower case layout in others.

I agree that the apprentice and journeyman comp would wear much the same sort of garb that another trade, craft or working man would choose to fit himself with.

The type of clothing would vary from place to place depending on the availability of materials and the degree of impact the industrial revolution had in the area for most raiment was still locally produced and only gentlemen compositors could afford to travel to a larger center of trade for their purchases or have their clobber sent to them.

Up to about 1850 all clothing was hand sewn, some at home and the balance in sweat shops which produced a varied mixture of ready-to-wear garments of equally variable quality.

The introduction of the sewing machine about the middle of the century and the development of skills in its use would have brought some sort of consistency to the durability of the stitching and the success of Levi Strauss in California who first produced his garments from brown sailcloth and later switched to a French Twill which we now know as denim is legend but this was mostly in the third quarter of the millenium and our focus is on the second.

Richard is in Maryland - the very name of Furnace Town gives some indication of its industrial heritage - so it is quite possible that strong and durable ironworkers clothing was available from the store - and there was one - at reasonable cost, a comp or pressman would be foolish not to avail himself of such an opportunity.

Back again to the subject of the gentleman printer - the printshop proprietor or manager, if the whole caboodle belonged the Company [Maryland Iron Company - later owned for a time by Judge Thomas Spence and his wife] would no doubt have had a better cut of trouser - as opposed to the sailcloth or moleskin britches worn by his workers - and possibly he wore a linen or cotton shirt with a stiff collar and a tie of sorts, maybe even a string tie - it was before the Civil War - the workers shirts, at a guess, would have been flannel - tough, servicable and comfortable - the flair for individuality demonstrated by varied headgear and perhaps colored bandana scarves.

The cut of the garments would be looseish so that a minimum size range fits all and apart from the moderate bagginess, not too different from the work clothing of today -  here I partly base my assumption on the gear worn by the workers, miners, guides etc. at Sovereign Hill - a local historical reproduction of a gold mining village of the 1850's where a fair amount of time, effort and arguement went into research when determining what the well dressed miner would wear.

That's more or less what I would suppose - I trust the historians will tear me to shreads and in so doing give us the benefit of their greater specialised knowledge and opinion.

Good luck Richard - you never know, if you do it right you might even encourage Sampson Hat to frequent your shop.


Dan Williams

Yes, Daves photo certainly predates 1700. Jeffo is on the mark.
I too believe that printers dress corresponded to that of the allied trades. No doubt printers' uniforms followed variations in the local trade customs, climate and  shop clientele.
Here in South Texas, my older acquaintances have suggested that white button-down shirts and slacks were common during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I believe this is reliable because my source was a long time member of ITU and Craftsman Club, whose own father was a nineteenth century hand-compositor. If semi-formal dress was a phenominon during the pioneering era of the Gulf Coast, then I have to believe that this was the case elsewhere, at least during the Industrial Revolution.
Small print shops were a central part of the community, and like my  great-grandfather Meitzen's shop in Halletsville, Texas, the dress was rather formal. Those images of Edward Otto Meitzen and the New Era are somewhere on the Web.
Lets not forget that around the time of the American Civil War, printing had become specialized and these different trades had unions and customs of their own. Stone men, typesetters and pressmen surely had their own manner of dress.
I like to think that typesetters of the mid to late nineteenth century distinguished themselves in semi-formal wear; button-down shirts, vests and dark slacks or dungarees. Ties and arm-garter gadgets are typical. In northern climates add top or bowler hat and jacket. I like to think that pressman wore white canvas or loose white garmets, with the newspaper-hat and apron. Stonemen? Typecasters? Machine-men? Probably  a cross between  typsetters' formal wear and pressmens' technical apparel. Supervisors and front office men probably looked alot like Dicken's Scrooge.
I reference photos from "Graphic Communications Through the Ages" by Kimberely Clark, featuring art by Robert Thom, Douglas Parrish and George Parrish. Also see "The Heritage of the Printer" by Dr James Eckman.

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