Books and Printing and Mormons. Part 7.
May 12, 2013 6 Comments
Paper, was a product of Chinese invention. The process was driven by human labor of course and didn’t become machine powered until water mills came on line in Medieval times. Making paper requires a material base consisting of suitable fibers. Water provides the ability to defuse the material through mechanical action like pounding it with wooden or metal tools. The resulting slurry can be spread over a draining screen and when dry, paper results.
The fiber was often taken from the inner bark of trees together with recycled materials like cotton cloth. Not until the year of Joseph Smith’s death was the process modified so that recycled materials became obsolete. That year saw the introduction of sawdust, making wood pulp paper. Still, one sees “rag content” as a badge of honor in paper sales. But Newsprint operations loved the wood pulp methods: it was cheap and became cheaper as technology made the process unbelievably quick.
During Joseph Smith’s life, paper was made in sheets of various sizes. The Book of Mormon manuscript was written on sheets of foolscap folio. The first edition of the Book of Mormon was printed in duodecimo form. Each sheet made a gathering or signature by folding it four times. The original book had about 25 gatherings. Since there were 5,000 copies of the Book of Mormon under contract with E. B. Grandin, this suggests that the whole operation required approximately 125,000 sheets. This also means each leaf measured roughly 5″ x 7 3/8″. Grandin purchased a new set of pica font for the book, but it was not a large enough set to avoid disassembly of each forme, replacement of the type in each tray and then reassembly of a new forme. To speed things up, the original compositor, John Gilbert, received some assistance in the grueling work. Two compositors working together made reference to the manuscript difficult. Hence, at least some printing manuscript pages survive in two pieces. Each compositor had his half.
Similar methods were deployed in church printing through Joseph Smith’s lifetime. One ingenious modification of the process involved making a casting of the forme. A paper mache-like material was pressed onto a forme and when dry, used as a mold for hot lead alloy creating a copy of the forme. The result was “stereotype plates.” These were portable, durable representations of the forme created by a compositor just once for many subsequent printings. For small jobs like broadsides, or non-repeated printings like newspapers, plates made no economic sense, so compositors were still in demand. On the other hand, plates were versatile in their way. They could be edited to some extent, by cutting and “welding.”
Next time: the church press.
 And this (plate modification) actually applies to nearly all of Joseph Smith’s known sermons.