Media: Slideshow

Colonial-Era Printing

Printing the Virginia Gazette

A reenactor at Colonial Williamsburg proofreads a page of the Virginia Gazette that has been freshly printed on an eighteenth-century printing press. The printing process required intensive labor. Lines of type were hand-set and placed into wooden cases that were tied together and locked into an iron frame that was the size of a page. A mixture of varnish and lampblack was spread evenly over the type; moistened sheets of paper were then squeezed against the type with a pressure plate. The printing press exerted about 200 pounds of pressure, which had to be maintained for about fifteen seconds to create a clear and legible impression. The page of text then had to dry before the other side could be printed. The workday in a printer's shop could last as long as fourteen hours.

Original Author: Unknown

Created: Unknown

Medium: Photograph

Courtesy of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

Letter for Printing

This metal shaped "A" is a piece of type—the kind of type used in colonial printing. A compositor would gather individual letters like this one and hand-set them in lines to create text for newspapers, books, or other printed material.

Original Author: Unknown

Created: Late twentieth or early twenty-first century

Medium: Metal printing type

Courtesy of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

Setting Type

A reeneactor at Colonial Williamsburg finishes hand-setting type for a page of the Virginia Gazette newspaper. This work was done by a compositior—the person who gathered individual letters and placed them in a iron rule known as a "composing stick," to forms words and sentences. Since the printing process reversed the image, the type would be set backwards. After lines of type were finished, the compositor would set them in wooden cases called galleys. Galley pages of type would then be locked in an iron frame and secured to the bed of the printing press.

Original Author: Unknown

Created: Late twentieth or early twenty-first century

Medium: Hand-set type

Courtesy of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

Zoom In
  • Printing the Virginia Gazette

    A reenactor at Colonial Williamsburg proofreads a page of the Virginia Gazette that has been freshly printed on an eighteenth-century printing press. The printing process required intensive labor. Lines of type were hand-set and placed into wooden cases that were tied together and locked into an iron frame that was the size of a page. A mixture of varnish and lampblack was spread evenly over the type; moistened sheets of paper were then squeezed against the type with a pressure plate. The printing press exerted about 200 pounds of pressure, which had to be maintained for about fifteen seconds to create a clear and legible impression. The page of text then had to dry before the other side could be printed. The workday in a printer's shop could last as long as fourteen hours.

    Original Author: Unknown

    Created: Unknown

    Medium: Photograph

    Courtesy of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

  • Letter for Printing

    This metal shaped "A" is a piece of type—the kind of type used in colonial printing. A compositor would gather individual letters like this one and hand-set them in lines to create text for newspapers, books, or other printed material.

    Original Author: Unknown

    Created: Late twentieth or early twenty-first century

    Medium: Metal printing type

    Courtesy of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

  • Setting Type

    A reeneactor at Colonial Williamsburg finishes hand-setting type for a page of the Virginia Gazette newspaper. This work was done by a compositior—the person who gathered individual letters and placed them in a iron rule known as a "composing stick," to forms words and sentences. Since the printing process reversed the image, the type would be set backwards. After lines of type were finished, the compositor would set them in wooden cases called galleys. Galley pages of type would then be locked in an iron frame and secured to the bed of the printing press.

    Original Author: Unknown

    Created: Late twentieth or early twenty-first century

    Medium: Hand-set type

    Courtesy of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation