The Victorians were not afraid to moralise, and they were willing to put money into the production of ‘good works’ (Roberts 2002). The material residue of philanthropy is spectacularly on view in such hefty civic edifices as libraries, sewers and hospitals. Equally, righteous purpose was impressed into the page. Specifically, the medium of letterpress production was invested with moral significance through narratives of progress, social justice and salvation that appeared in many self-reflexive, self-congratulatory celebrations of print culture in nineteenth-century publications (Secord 2000: 30; King and Plunkett 2004: 6). Furthermore, future progress would not be frightening, because it was rooted in past cultural production. This chapter considers the ‘default’ print technology of the first part of the nineteenth century that at first glance has clear links to Gutenberg’s process of 1450; letterpress accompanied by so-called ‘run-in relief’ illustrations. Production in this medium expanded tremendously in the period 1800-50 due to industrial methods of papermaking and the adoption of steam power. Self-help publications, aimed at improving and educating industrial workers, celebrated the very printing machines that had brought them into being, alongside a crash course in high culture, while conservative factions reiterated endless warnings of the dangers of universal education. Alongside this expansion came developments of specific ‘printer cultures’ of wood engravers, print tradesmen and journalists. In Britain, Europe and the United States, letterpress printing was hailed as a

democratic medium that would increase literacy for all. Publications aimed at working-class readers linked together print, freedom and industrial progress, celebrating the press as a ‘powerful engine’ for improvement (Glasgow Mechanics’ Magazine 1824: v). Artisans hailed print as a virtual archive of knowledge that would place the arts of the workshop beyond ‘the reach of vicissitude and decay’ and thus lead to endless progress (Mechanics’ Magazine Volume 6, 1 January 1827: iv). Publications for popular general reading such as the Penny Magazine ran a blow-by-blow illustrated account of its own production processes in its opening issues. And while these print methods were presented as the motor of progress, the spirit of Gutenberg was resurrected as a modern ‘hero of invention’ alongside industrial giants such as James Watt, developer of the condensing steam engine, or Robert Stephenson

the powerful railway engineer (MacLeod 2007; Fox 2009). Expansion in print production took place amongst the social, economic and industrial infrastructures of the nineteenth century, organised in terms of market capitalism and the development of political ideologies of liberalism and ‘free trade’. New means of transport such as the railway (Schivelbusch 1986; Freeman 1999) increased the speed and quantity of travelling objects both animate and inanimate; newspapers and their readers circulated endlessly as part of the ‘uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, the everlasting uncertainty and agitation’ of capitalist modernity, attacked so exhilaratingly in the Communist manifesto (Marx and Engels 2008 [1848]; Berman 2010). Rapid communication, increasing readerships, and the notion that culture could be formed within national and international networks developed literary technologies for ‘engineering empires’ in the expanding imperialist nations of Europe (Marsden and Smith 2005). In this battlefield of values, persuasive words were only one weapon. To many, the medium of letterpress itself also became a focus for attention as a potential source of order. In letterpress printing, inked metal type impresses the white paper as well

as marking it with pigment. If you run your fingers down a printed page you can feel the indentations of the lines of type and the individual letters. To many readers and commentators, this heavy impress acts as a kind of brand into the skin of the page, a ‘clawmark of meaning’ (Chappell and Bringhurst 1990: 285) that gives authority to the text. The long duration of this printing technique lent an aura of tradition. Influential popularisers of print culture

such as William Blades stressed the historical aspects of hand press work in a way that appealed to non-specialist audiences who would have been familiar with the small jobbing print workshops in their local economies. Less obviously, but of equal importance, new industrial techniques of production such as stereotyping created mechanised forms of letterpress that modified previous notions of the status of the printed word, and challenged the status of printers as skilled craft workers. Letterpress was the medium through which many of the most charged debates about power, truth and culture in the period were staged, while in printing houses parallel struggles for the moral high ground between traditional values and new ways of working were also staged in relation to control of production.