The First Class

by jennifer.gargan on September 13, 2013

We had our first day of class this week at the AAS.  It was very exciting! We had part of our class in the Goddard-Daniels House.  It is very beautiful and antique looking in the house.  We discussed some of the reading we had done and got to know everyone that is participating in the seminar.  After that, we went over to the library! We got a tour of the entire building except for the reading room.  There were so many fascinating things to learn about on the tour.  We got to see a printer that belonged to Isaiah Thomas.  He founded the AAS and was a printer in Boston before fleeing to Worcester during the early phases of the American Revolution.  I found the printer itself to be very interesting.  The process using a printing press is very tedious and difficult.  Every single letter needs to be loaded into a tray before it can be placed in the machine and if an apprentice drops it, all that work is lost! Another part of the tour was seeing where all the documents and books are kept.  I was fascinated to learn that there are about 4 million different pieces in their collection and that they have 25 miles of bookshelves!  The area where the books are kept has to be dark and temperature controlled so they can be preserved.  We also got to touch some of the documents and examine the type of paper, or rather linen, on which they were printed.  It felt very strange being able to touch artifacts that are so old! I am very eager to see what kinds of sources we will be examining in the coming weeks!


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Louise Carroll Keeley September 16, 2013 at 10:19 pm

I took a tour of the AAS some years ago guided by Dr. Tom Knoles, but based on your description of the printing press, I think I need to go back. I assume that the apprentice had to load up letters for an entire page before it could be printed, right? I hope that it wasn’t more than this based on the frustration involved if the tray spilled. Please enlighten.


jennifer.gargan September 17, 2013 at 1:05 am

Yes, the apprentice would have to load each letter (called a sort, I believe) onto the tray and then carry it from the table with the letters to the press and the process would have to be repeated for different pages of type. Thus if the apprentice dropped the tray and spilled the letters, he would have to redo the entire process and place each letter in the tray all over again. It is a very fascinating and time consuming process, requiring two workers. One of the workers loads the letters and dabs the ink onto the letters. The other worker, does not touch any ink, so he may handle the paper without getting it dirty. The process is very tiresome and tedious it seems. In a day and age where we can readily print anything from our own homes and have books and printed material everywhere; it is quite humbling to see all the work that was needed to print a single page for a newspaper or book. It truly makes one appreciate how valuable all of these books and newspapers are from the 18th and 19th centuries.


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