Like many fields, printing saw vast technological change over the industrial revolution. At the start of the Victorian period, printing was typographic, meaning it relied upon small metal or wooden letters that would be organised into sentences.

A Victorian printer would take their type, create the writing they wanted printing, then rest it face up on the bed of the press. They’d gently dab it with ink (enough so the raised letters would leave an impression, but not so much that it would drown out the letter), then add paper to the top. The paper would the be mechanically pressed down on the inked type. Type would be stored in a case, with capitol letters at the top and smaller letters at the bottom; “printers often call this upper case and the lower case letters,” (24:30, Victorian Farm) a term that’s still in use today. This system was largely based upon the work of Johann Gutenberg, who “first brought together the complex systems and subsystems necessary to print a typographic book around the year 1450” (Meggs and Purvis, 2016, p. 337).

The first development in Victorian printing came in 1800, when Lord Stanhope utilized new materials to create a printing mass made almost entirely from cast iron. Mechanically pressing “reduc(ed) the impressionable force by 90% while doubling the size of the printing area” (Stanhope Printing Press – Alexandria Library information board, 2019). With less labour, greater quantities of printed material could be created.

Further automation came from Friedrich Koenig’s stop cylinder printing machine in 1811. Paper would be wrapped around two steam-powered cylinders that would rotate against ink type laid on a flat bed. The machine worked in two phases; in the first, rollers inked the type automatically. In the second phase, paper would be fed into the machine and carried by a cylinder which would press the paper into the flat bed. The bed would move forwards and backwards, printing multiple pages at once. One cylinder would rotate, followed by the second, based on the position of the bed, allowing for twice as much paper to be printed at once.

An early Victorian printing press that works on the basis of Gutenberg’s press. This model is in Blists Hill Victorian Village.
Type would be set backwards so that when printed, the text would come out the right way. This type is located in Blists Hill.

However, the biggest invention in this period was the rotary press, designed in America by Richard M Hoe and patented in 1847. As Harold Sack explains, “For Hoe’s rotary printing press the type was placed on a revolving cylinder,” (2017) this cylinder being called a plate. The cylinder was large and steam powered and much faster than a flat-bed printing system. This was called the Hoe Lightning Press and was capable of printing “eight thousand pages” an hour (ibid). He perfected this model in 1870, in a marvel of engineering which would use a roll of paper five miles long, which would be fed into the machine at a rate of 240 metres per minute. As the paper emerged, it would be automatically cut and then folded. The Bolton Weekly Journal used a rotary like this (see W.F. Tillotson and Technology – Victorian Bolton).

Developments in printing dropped printed material costs massively in this period, so writing reached “a broad socio-economic group that had previously been shut out from first-publication reading” (Johanningsmeier, 1995, p. 63). He cites the cost of a daily at between 2-3 cents (between 67 and 100 cents in today’s money) compared to $1.25 for a book ($42 in today’s money).

Front page of the Bolton Journal & Guardian, January 1899.
The Colombian Press, invented in 1813 in America. It’s a cast iron press that works on the same principle of Stanhope’s design. This model is in Blists Hill Victorian Village.

Special thanks to Sam Brett-Atkin of @19thcenturyink (19th Century Ink (@19thcenturyink) • Instagram photos and videos) and Blists Hill Victorian Town.


Anon. (n.d.) CPI Inflation Calendar. [Online] Available from: [Accessed: 15 April 2024].

Johanningsmeier, C. (1995) Newspaper Syndicates of the Late Nineteenth Century: Overlooked Forces in the American Literary Market-Place. Publishing History. 37(1), pp. 61-82.

Meggs, Philip B., and Alston W. Purvis. (2016) Meggs’ History of Graphic Design. John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated: Hoboken.

Sack, H. (2017) Richard M Hoe and the Second Printing Revolution. [Online] Available from: [Accessed: 20 April 2024].

Stanhope Printing Press – Alexandria Library. (2019) [Online] Available from: [Accessed 20 April 2024]. 

Victorian Farm. (2009) The Astonishing World of Victorian Printing Press [TV Programme: Online] London: BBC 2. Available from: [Accessed: 20 April 2024].


Colby, Robert A. (1985) “Tale Bearing in the 1890s: The Author and Fiction Syndication”. Victorian Periodicals Review. Vol.18, No.1, pp. 2-16.

Hilliard, Christopher (2009) “The Provincial Press and the Imperial Traffic in Fiction, 1870s-1930s”. Journal of British Studies. Vol.48, No.3, pp. 653-673.

Johanningsmeier, Charles (1995) “Newspaper Syndicates of the Late Nineteenth Century: Overlooked Forces in the American Literary Marketplace”. Publishing History. Vol. 37, No.1, pp. 61-82.

Jones, Aled (1984) “Tillotson’s Fiction Bureau: The Manchester Manuscripts”. Victorian Periodicals Review. Vol.17, No.1, pp. 43-49.

Singleton, Frank (1950) Tillotson’s 1850-1950: Centenary of a Family Business. Bolton: Tillotson & Son Ltd.