World of Newspaper Publishing by Carol Cox

carolphotoI’ll admit it—I’m a research junkie. I love digging up new information that will breathe life into my historical novels. In writing my latest release, Truth Be Told, that meant delving into the world of newspaper publishing in the late 19th century. My travels over the past year took me to a number of museums featuring exhibits from early frontier newspaper offices.


I picked up some basic terminology from those visits—as well as from reference books—but for this story, I needed more. Amelia Wagner, my heroine, would be operating a weekly frontier newspaper. Many scenes would be set in the printing office, so I had to have a clear idea of what the setup would look like. And what would she be doing from one day to the next? I needed to make sure the setting and Amelia’s activities offered an accurate reflection of the times.
After scouring the internet for more information, it turned out the answer lay practically in my own back yard. A call to Sharlot Hall Museum in nearby Prescott led me to Sky Shipley, the owner-operator of one of only three type foundries left in the UnitedState, who graciously agreed to help fill in the many gaps in my knowledge.
Washington_Hand_PressWe met at the print shop at Sharlot Hall Museum, where a Washington hand press—identical to the one Amelia uses in Truth Be Told—is on display.


Seeing the press up close and personal helped me envision some of the day-to-day operations of a weekly frontier newspaper. I could almost see the ink man using a brayer to distribute ink across the set form while the press man put a sheet of newsprint in place before cranking it forward under the platen.
Hauling on the lever, the press man would move the platen down to make an impression on the paper before rolling it back again so the sheet could be stripped out and then repeating the process all over again, one sheet at a time.
Two people working in a well-established rhythm might be able to make two impressions per minute.  After printing, the sheets would be hung up to let the ink dry before being printed on the other side.
While the Washington press would have been used to print the weekly paper, jobbing presses, like the one in the photo below, produced smaller items—business card, invitations, menus, wanted posters, etc.—that provided a much-needed cash flow essential to the paper’s survival.

Jobbing_pressOne especially fascinating tidbit of information was that newspapers of that era were often the target of ill will, because editors had opinions that didn’t always sit well with all sectors of the population. Editors were threatened, and their shops were sometimes attacked. In addition, editors often had wars in print with each other. When it came to name-calling, there were no holds barred, and no one cared much whether the printed accusations were true or not.

That set the stage perfectly for the premise of Truth Be Told, where Amelia’s father, the original editor of the Granite Springs Gazette, is a man committed to printing nothing but the truth. His passion for integrity would have made him something of an anomaly—and a ready target for men who were less scrupulous.
It was a thrill to find such a treasure trove of information so close at hand, and it just goes to show you never know where research may take you…sometimes you’ll find the answers you need right under your nose!
Truth Be Told cover
Many thanks to Karen Witemeyer for inviting me to join you today! I’ll be giving away a print copy of Truth Be Told, so be sure to leave a comment in order to be included in the drawing. I can’t wait to chat with you!


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43 thoughts on “World of Newspaper Publishing by Carol Cox”

  1. Hello Carol, this post was very interesting. I’ve seen movies with them using these old time printers. Hard, tedious work. I would love to win your book. Thanks Karen for inviting Carole. Maxie mac262(at)me(dot)com

  2. Welcome to P&P, Carol! We’re so thrilled to have you pay us a visit. Love your blog. Very interesting. It sure took a lot of work to put a newspaper out back then. And it took a lot of courage in many instances as you pointed out when they took a position folks didn’t like.

    Wishing you much success! TRUTH BE TOLD sounds like my kind of story.

  3. Thanks for the interesting post. Printing back then was hard work, for sure. I love the cover of Truth be Told. Please enter me in the drawing.

  4. Hi, Carol! Thank you for sharing this wonderful post! One of the reasons I love historical fiction so much is because of historical details such as this that are included. Thank you for the chance to win a copy of TRUTH BE TOLD!

    texaggs2000 at gmail dot com

  5. It amazes me the work it took for printing long ago. Now we type and click! Amazing how far we have come!

  6. Thanks for all the comments, ladies! I’m so glad you all like the cover. I loved the way they added the sheets of drying newsprint hanging around the printing office, and the printing press and type cabinets you can see in the background are very similar to the ones I encountered in my research.

    Linda, you are so right about the amount of work it took to put out a newspaper back in the day. Even for a weekly, the tasks that had to be carried out were just staggering. Gathering news, setting up all those tiny bits of type, and then putting ALL of them away in their proper places was a never-ending chore. What a difference between that and the way we can type out a few pages on our laptops today, hit “Print,” and watch the pages roll out of the printer!

  7. It drives home how much work it must have been to print a paper! The pictures really help to visualize how it works, and the presses are so much more elegant (look at the spokes on the jobbing press!) than today’s extremely functional, streamlined, and ugly copy machines.

  8. Hi Carol! Historical fiction is the best. I love these interesting posts with all of their fascinating information. Seeing the smaller printer in this post used for smaller jobs takes me back to being a newly married gal and working in our family brush business. With a broom and brush business, the blocks had to be stamped with the business logo on them so I ran the stamper at times and did just that. By hand, the type was set, ink was rolled on, the block was placed, and the stamper moved the block in place for the letters to be pressed into the wooden block. What memories, thank you for taking me back.

    I know Truth Be Told is wonderful and I would love to read it !

    melback at cebridge dot net

  9. I have seen some of those printing presses in movies and TV… it would be very interesting to see one up close… can not imagine how long it took to create their papers each time. Thanks for sharing with us today!

  10. Hi Carol,
    Interesting post…..and love the cover on your new book!
    Am anxious to read it; have read several of your books and loved them.
    Thanks for the giveaway.
    jacsmi75 at gmail dot com

  11. The research you did for your book sounds very interesting. I once got to go to an old printing press place too and got to get a tour of it and see how it used to be. So cool to be up and close and experience history. Would love to win your book, it sounds good!

  12. Hi Carol, welcome to P&P. We’re thrilled to have you. In the first of the six historical western romance stories I did with sister Filly Linda Broday and two other local authors, my hero owned the print shop and the heroine came from Boston as his apprentice. It was so much fun. In researching, I learned, and I’m sure you know this but some of the others may not, that the description of “upper and lower case” for capital and no caps comes from the fact that the upper case or caps were stored in the upper tray that was used for the printer blocks, while the lower trays were used for the “lower case”. It’s been several years since I did any research for that story, so my descriptions are probably wrong, but I think everybody will get the idea. But the most amazing thing was that I named the printer’s assistant Monk, long before I began any research. As I researched along I learned that a white, blurry “nonprinted” space down the middle of a printed page is called a Monk in the business. I’m doing this by memory and I did this research many stories ago, so please don’t use this against me if I’m wrong. I’m fairly certain but check your own research, please! LOL Carol, your book sounds wonderful and I love your cover. Again, thanks for visiting P&P. Hugs from Texas, Phyliss

    • Hi Phyliss,

      Just to let you know that old printers used the terms ‘monks’, and ‘friars’ in relation to the amount of ink that was applied by hand to a hand-press. Monks were areas of the type form that were over-inked, related I suppose to the reputation of stories of monks over-indulging with food and wine, and Friars were areas that were under-inked, alluding to the paucity in life as practiced by them. The admonishment to ‘mind your p’s and q’s’ also comes from printing, and the fact that hand-set types were backwards and upside-down as set, and p’s could look like q’s, as well as b’s could look like d’s.

  13. Carol, welcome to the Junction! I loved your post. The history of newspapers in this country is fascination. Congratulations on your release, by the way. The cover is gorgeous!!!!

  14. I’m loving all these wonderful comments! I’m on the road at the moment–heading back home after a graduation in Phoenix–so I’m making a quick stop at a wi-fi hotspot to check in. 🙂

    Melanie, you must have some amazing memories of running that stamper. And what fun to learn about the similarity between that process and the printing presses of long ago!

    Melody, I’m with you–I didn’t fall in love with history until I was an adult. In fact, history was my LEAST favorite subject all the way through school…until I enrolled in a college class with a professor who made it all come alive. I’ve been hooked ever since!

    Colleen, one of the things that surprised me was how little time was actually devoted to printing the paper in comparison with the work involved in setting up the forms and redistributing the type. That was a never ending process! It really added to my appreciation of the dedication of those early newspapermen (and women 😉 ).

    Back on the road…I’ll check back as soon as I have another chance to get online!

  15. What an interesting post, Carol! Thank you. I love reading these little historical details.
    campbellamyd at gmail dot com

  16. Carol,
    I always love your stories and it looks like this one will be no exception. Thanks for the attention to detail!

  17. I love how much I learn while reading my favorite historical fiction novels. I really appreciate the time and effort put into research to be sure to get it right. I have enjoyed several books by Carol and would love to win this one.

  18. Hi Carol,
    I fell in love with reading as a child but never enjoyed historical fiction until I began teaching the 4-5 grades. I like finding the little details for my students that aren’t in the textbooks. During those searches I discovered historical fiction and have enjoyed it ever since. I would love to read your book “Truth Be Told”. Thank you for all your dedicated research.

  19. Hi Carol, enjoyed the info on the old printing press. I helped out a friend on an old (but much newer than this) printing press years ago. They are fascinating aren’t they? Thanks for your blog post.

  20. My family and I were in Philadelphia and were able to visit the historic site of Franklin’s print shop were he put out The Pennsylvania Gazette. I found it fascinating how they could ink and press one sheet at a time and hang them up to dry, when we are so used to instant copies. I look forward to reading Truth be Told as I look forward to all your books!

  21. Carol it has been awhile since I’ve read one of your books. I would love to read this one! I love Karen’s books, too. 🙂 Love it when you “fillies” delve into the stuff of history and weave a good read around some interesting facts.

  22. What an informative post. I really enjoy reading Books by Carol Cox. I am looking forward to reading Truth be Told.

  23. Carol, I also did not like history until much later in life. Now I enjoy historical fiction and like learning about new information. I live in the midwest where there is so much history. I will continue to keep learning as long as I can! Thank you for the photos here, so interesting!

  24. I loved your post, Carol! Finding out these bits of information from the past is always interesting to me. That’s probably one reason I like historical fiction and reading these blog posts from authors who write it. I always learn so much! Thanks for the chance to win your book. Having a printer who has a strong moral standing when others don’t will make for some interesting situations, I am sure!

  25. Enjoyed reading the article. I have visited Prescott several times since I have a son that lives there. On one visit, I toured Sharlot Hall Museum and learned a lot about early Arizona history.

  26. Congratulations on the release of TRUTH BE TOLD, Carol. Lovely cover.

    I am glad you took the time to research the topic thoroughly. It makes such a big difference for me when a story has enough detail to feel authentic and put you back in the time and place it is set. I know there are readers out there that just want a romance and don’t want to be bothered with a “history lesson.” Fair enough. There are many books suitable for them. For me, the setting and time are important. I don’t want a story that is generic enough that it could be historical or contemporary with few if any changes.

    I have seen old presses and someplace saw one in operation. It took time and talent to operate them smoothly and quickly. Setting type is fascinating to watch and time consuming. It is amazing how fast an experienced person can go.

    TRUTH BE TOLD sounds like a good book. I’ll be looking for it.

  27. What a very interesting and informative post. Printing was really labor intensive back then for sure. I admire those who always sought to print the truth no matter what the cost.

  28. Love the cover illustration of your novel and I too, love researching history but, for me it’s fashion and people and their portraits…looking forward to reading your story!

  29. Thank you for the post. I have always been interested in the old fashioned way of printing. When I was in high school, I was on the newspaper staff and loved it when we did our “Paste Ups” before our paper went to print. I had an opportunity to go to work for the city newspaper right out of high school but I didn’t do it and I really have had a small regret ever since.

    I love the cover of your new book and would love to win a copy. Thank you for the opportunity.

    Smiles & Blessings,
    Cindy W.

    countrybear52 AT yahoo DOT com

  30. Looks like another great read from one of my favorite authors! Keep the press rolling, Carol Cox! Smile!

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