02 October, 2007

John Smith’s Printer’s Grammar, 1755

Many English printers’ manuals derive to some extent from Moxon’s of 1683–4, and even those of the early 19th century by Stower (1808), Johnson (1824) and Hansard (1825) include passages taken directly from Moxon’s text. The Printer’s Grammar of John Smith (if that was his real name), published in London in 1755, is different. He deals with compositors’ work but not with presswork. Although he shows that he knows Moxon’s manual, he includes detailed observations that are clearly drawn from personal experience. On the title page his name is followed by the unexplained term in italics, Regiom. He mentions some aspects of printing in France and gives an English translation of a passage from Fertel’s manual of 1723, but it is clear that he also drew on previous experience of German printers and printing. Although he sometimes distances himself from German practice (was he perhaps for a time, like Moxon, an Englishman working abroad?), he had known Samuel Struck of Lübeck (‘Mr. Struke’ on page 10), who published one of the earliest German printers’ manuals there in 1713, he had worked in Danzig, and he remembers how in Germany ‘fifty years ago’, large letters were cast hollow, continuing, ‘whether this has been practised ever since, we cannot tell with certainty’. It has been suggested, plausibly, that Regiom. stands for Regiomontanus, the Latin for a citizen of Königsberg. There have been several places with this name, but, given the links to Lübeck and Danzig, it was probably the city in East Prussia. Perhaps he was born there. However, he when he wrote his book he had certainly become familiar for some years with London printers and printing, and his detailed references to current usage in some sections, such as that on type bodies (pages 19 ff.) suggest that he practised the trade in some capacity, whether as a master printer or, perhaps more likely, as a compositor or a reader.
The original printing of Smith’s manual is rare, but an adequate facsimile was published in 1965. It was also partially reprinted by Philip Luckombe, in the Concise history of printing (1770), reissued in 1771 as The history and art of printing, an edition which is available in Google Books. Another reprint, which includes a specimen of the types of Edmund Fry, is The printer’s grammar … chiefly collected from Smith’s edition (London: printed by J. Wayland and sold by T. Evans, 1787). Since the edition of 1755 has neither a table of contents nor an index, it is not easy to get an idea of the details of the text. To make it more accessible I have compiled my own index, and have placed it at the head of this post. Clicking on it will bring up a larger image which seems fairly legible, and if this is printed to a size of 190 by 237 mm it can be folded to fit the reprinted edition.
Here is an image of a table of contents compiled for the edition of 1755: