4.2.2: 1830 - 1910 - Organisation of a printing / publishing business

The layout and the organisation of the print shop changed as a result of drastic technical changes. The wooden presses, operated by two men, were replaced by steam-driven presses and later by electrically driven presses (including, among others, the platen press), cylinder presses and rotary presses. The introduction of type-setting machines (Linotype en Monotype) also completely changed the printing shop. An increase in the production capacity was combined with a decrease in production time, resulting in an increasing amount of pressure on the relationship between masters and printers. A strongly hierarchical structure still existed in the publishing and printing industries between the owner and the employees and among the employees themselves. The printing industry employed, in addition to the owner (employer), a foreman, trainees, craftsmen, type-setters, printers and correctors. A separate designer did not yet exist. The foreman was, next to the employer, the head of the printing shop to whom obedience was owed. He provided fire and lighting, closed the printing shop and had an overview of all work and equipment. Depending on the size of the printing shop, the organisation was more or less complicated. The increasing number of printers (1850: 175, 1880: 425, 1890: 683 and 1909: 1000) included a mixed company. It varied from the small commercial printing shops with just one or two platen presses, serving in particular the local and regional markets, to shops operating on a national scale and employing several cylinder presses, which were forced to produce a continuous stream of new editions. The printing shops and publishing houses often were family businesses. Here too, the publisher-printers A.W. Sijthoff (Leiden) can be mentioned as an example.

The various tasks in the publishing house, such as bookkeeping, correspondence with authors, engravers, draughtsmen, binders, dispatching the items from the publisher's list, and the storage of paper and list items were still in one hand, but as a firm grew, these tasks were left to several head clerks (bookkeepers). The firm of A.W. Sijthoff employed nine persons in 1851, but this number had risen to 118 by 1890.

The organisation in the publishing house was mainly still a matter of personal insight of the owner in the acceptance of manuscripts, contacts with authors and a good exploitation of list items. The publisher-bookseller learned his trade through experience, especially by working as an apprentice in established firms at home or abroad. The acquisition of new list titles was an important goal of the publisher with new and old, original Dutch or translated titles making up the list. The acquisition of list items took place at list auctions, by acquiring translation rights of foreign titles or by attracting new authors. A good exploitation of the list was achieved not only through diversification in format (see 4.1.4), but also by annual visits to the bookshops, at first by the publisher-bookseller himself, later by agents. On these trips (usually in March/April) the annual accounts over the past year were made up on the basis of the items delivered and returned.

When in the course of this period the modern publisher (without a bookshop) became completely dependent on the sales to retailers, an active and alert attitude became increasingly necessary in a growing market with increasing competition. Using prospectuses, advertisements, shop posters, reviews and premiums, the publishers could bring newly published titles to the attention of retailers and private persons; old titles were exploited again via reissues, price reductions (for retailers as well as for individual customers) or by selling them off at list auctions.

author: B.P.M. Dongelmans

Organisation of a printing / publishing business

university printers

Definition: a printer appointed by a university to publish scholarly texts produced in that university

letterpress printers

Definition: printer specialising in the printing of books.


Definition: 1. person who practises the craft of printing. 2. person or organisation responsible - usually to the publisher - for the printing of a publication.

printers' manuals

Definition: practical book of instruction on the technical side of printing, in which aspects of composing and printing are discussed.

printers' devices

Definition: symbol or figure (emblem, monogram) sometimes with an emblematic representation and/or accompanied by a maxim, used by printers in their publications to identify their company.

map printers

Definition: printer, specialised in the printing of geographical and topographical maps.

art printers

Definition: printer specialised in the printing of plates and prints.

state printers

Definition: printer who is appointed by the government to print the publications of central government.

government printers

Definition: printer employed by a governmental institution taking care of the publication of the official documents that are produced by this institution.

copperplate printers

Definition: printers who, with the help of a copperplate press, make prints of engraved metal plates; for the reproduction of prints and maps.

provincial printers

Definition: printer appointed by a provincial government to publish publications of the provincial government.

town printers

Definition: printer appointed by a town council to print the publications of the local government.

printers to the Provincial States

Definition: printer appointed by the States of a Province in the Republic of the Seven United Provinces to print the publications of the provincial government.