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Foreign Printing and Bookshop

Foreign Printing and Bookshop at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1867

If the Illustrated World's Fair had the character of a newspaper or any other ephemeral publication, it would have been possible for us to insert the letter of the State Councillor, Director of the Imperial Printing Office; we could have commented on it in our turn, and discussed at length each of the facts put forward by the two sides.

But we must not and cannot lose sight of the fact that any polemic in a work which is a book and which will remain as the one and only souvenir of the Universal Exhibition of 1867, would be idle, unworthy of the framework adopted, of the grandeur of the subject and of the importance of the subjects. We can therefore only summarise the main points of the State Councillor's rectifications and restrict our reply to a few brief observations.

He admits that its rates are fixed by an annual decree, and that it is obliged to carry out considerable work for the state, the costs of which are not reimbursed, such as the Bulletin des lois, the Mémoires de l'Institut, etc.

The State Councillor also denies that the Imperial Printing House is in competition with private industry, and formally protests against our assertion that its administration hides its procedures and means of execution, and refuses to communicate them to interested parties in private industry.

Our answer will be short and will consist of a single question. If the ministry does not give any subsidy to the Imperial Printing Office; if this establishment, with many more charges than private industry, with much more considerable equipment, takes fewer materials, and that according to a famous report by M. F. Didot, which we could quote, it is proven that at 45 0/0 of cloth a printer loses money, a figure which has been checked and approved by more than a hundred printers; if the Imperial Printing Office is forced by the rules of public accounting to close its operations definitively at the end of each financial year, and cannot, like a simple private individual, conceal or make up for the losses of one year by the profits of the next, how can it exist and from where does it draw its resources? The letter from the State Councillor has not cleared up this mystery, and we are left in the dark, which the assumption of a subsidy paid in the end with taxpayers' money quite naturally dispels.

As for the second part of the State Councillor's plea, it can only be answered by facts. We claim to have these facts, and we have them at the disposal of the Conseiller d'État; but, as we said above, because of the very nature of this publication, we do not believe that we should enter into a diversionary debate.

We have a bad habit in France, whether in the arts or in the sciences, of knowing only our illustrations and of paying attention only to our celebrities. This flaw in the mind, which can be explained by national vanity as much as by the lack of education and the desire to acquire it, is one of the great reproaches that the peoples of Europe address to France. We are not familiar with foreign artists and, to cite but one example, the superiority of Italian sculptors, who were not born yesterday, burst forth like a thunderbolt at the 1867 Exhibition. The same is true of the representatives of the liberal arts. If the entire literate public knows the names of the Marne, the Didot, the Hachette, the Claye, the Best, few people in France have heard the names of the Giesecke, the Devrient, the Cotta, the Brockhaus, the Clowes, the Sonzogno, etc.

The Exhibition was able to reveal to at least a few serious minds the importance of these houses, whose reputation is European and to which France alone perhaps has not given the baptism of fame. I said a few serious minds, for the crowd, as is unfortunately becoming more evident every day, is amused and stops at the Champ de Mars for the trifles of the door and the exhibitions that have been harshly but justly described as fairground.

After a comparative study of typography among various peoples, one comes to the conviction that the processes are becoming more generalized today, that the types are losing their nationality. There is no longer any notable or original difference in the composition and printing. The machines alone, to which we will devote a special article, establish, through their various combinations and ingenious improvements, superiorities and inferiorities. America prevails over all other nations by its newspaper machines, its reaction machines, its labour machines, etc. But in printing, the point of view of sales and not of art guides the printers and publishers of the new world. Almost only newspapers are produced there, and the works, which are mostly translations or reproductions, are above all made available to the general public and executed with that speed which excludes all possibility of care. The types used are those in use in Europe.

England, on the other hand, is distinguished by a type that belongs to her. This thin, elongated type, having because of its thinness much white in its structure, in its eye as the typographers say, is nevertheless narrow enough to put more letters in a line. As this typeface is very high and, moreover, very often not interlined, the lines almost touch each other and the reading of a page thus composed becomes tiring. The English printing is always neat; the paper is generally beautiful and the inks are black and of fine quality. One notices, however, in the titles a complete lack of taste, a bizarre and shocking combination of the classical and the fanciful. The English book trade professes a great predilection for the Charpentier in-18, which it insists on calling an English format, but which really belongs to our publisher.

Germany is fond of long, narrow pages, which gives its editions a very special look and feel. Several attempts have been made to counteract this, but they have failed because they have fallen into the opposite excess, the square format. Even today, Germany approaches the in-18 format with a certain amount of mistrust. A few publishers, led by Cotta of Stuttgard, have started libraries. But the quarto, octavo, and twelfth edition reign almost absolutely in Germany.

Belgium, in all things, and in printing and bookstores as in everything else, imitates the other nations. What also kills the great typography in Belgium is that there are almost as many printing houses as there are composers. As we said in our first article, a profession such as this can only progress on the condition that forces are not dispersed and capital is not divided.

The national printing house of Portugal employs a type which is a compromise of the various typefaces adopted in France; it endeavours to imitate the good French editions; sometimes with some success. While typography is progressing in this country, it is declining in Spain, where the national printing house of Madrid, by a decree of the Queen dated 25 April last, has just been suppressed, because, "far from fulfilling," says the report, "the object of its institution, it is useless to the public service, unproductive, costly to the State, and detrimental to the development of private industry.

Finally, Russia is inferior in its exhibition to what our imperial printing house produces with Russian type, and Italy offers neither originality nor elegance in its types.

After this summary review of the peoples, we shall mention, just as quickly, the foreign houses which, by the development of their work, have really created an outstanding position for themselves.

Fighting closely with the great prize won by France, with the house of Marne, are first Messrs. Giesecke and Devrient, of Leipzig (gold medal). The printers of Paris can still send their sons to draw from this source of good traditions; they will find there the worthy successors of the masters of the last century. The skill of the special workers, composers, printers, conductors, the good management, the choice of types, papers, inks, etc., give a high value to the work of this house which brings together all the professions which contribute to the making of a book. Messrs. Giesecke and Devrient are not the only ones to uphold the old reputation of Leipzig. Mr. Brockhaus, who won a silver medal, also exhibits some remarkable works.

After Leipzig we must place the Royal Printing House of Berlin, which exhibits only banknotes, shares, and paper money, but which, in this work, has arrived at a rare perfection.

Germany is the classic land of typography. Almost every state has a famous house. Württemberg can boast the most popular publisher, M. Cotta, who has certainly shown the way to M. Hachette in the popularisation and development of the book trade. The jury awarded M. Cotta a silver medal, and this is hardly fair when one considers the beautiful prints that this house produces in quantity. We will mention only one Faust, folio, with woodcuts and intaglio compositions interspersed in the text. This work rivals the best we can produce. The printing is very beautiful, very neat and very consistent, and the typefaces are of a very happy choice. Next to it one must admire a Schiller of equally perfect execution. The engravings are replaced by photographs, and a rich velvet binding, decorated with a portrait in the round of the German poet, adds to the value of the book. In the current editions made with extreme care, one must name the complete works of Schiller, in twelve volumes, a Lessing, also in twelve volumes, and then this magnificent collection of Greek and Latin classics which the Didots have executed with more luxury, but without the immense advantage of putting them within the reach, as a price, of the schoolboy and the student. The Cotta company thus joins to the sterile merit of producing masterpieces, the much more fruitful one of publishing good editions carefully composed and printed, able to enter the most modest library, and paying to the talent or genius of the author the tribute of an execution worthy of the work.

Bavaria has sent Mr. Hallberger, of Munich, whose collection of engravings is very remarkable; Mr. Pustet, of Regensburg, who has obtained a silver medal for his breviaries and bibles; Mr. G. Manz, also of Regensburg, who exhibits books of great luxury.

In Austria, several firms are known for their work; among others, M. Braumüller, of Vienna, who has offered to the Paris library the numerous works of his exhibition which deal with natural sciences, chemistry and mechanics.

In England, Clowes and Sons, of London, which was not part of the jury, was ranked by its peers among the gold medal winners. This printing house has devoted itself almost exclusively to works of natural science, and only the houses of Didot and Martinet, of Paris, are able to compete with it in the printing of books on botany and medicine. It has also made some excursions into the field of jurisprudence. Cassell, Petter and Galpin, whose beautiful bindings are to be admired, publishes an in-18 library reminiscent of our Charpentier format; it was awarded a silver medal. Messrs. Spottiswoode and Co. also won a silver medal, - exhibiting a magnificent edition of Shakespeare, and Messrs. Low and Marston, a beautiful "Miltons Paradise lost". The Foreign British Bible Society gives a specimen of the 170 languages in which they print the Bible. Many of these languages are printed in Latin script. - Why is this so?
- Because, says the Society, many of these languages are spoken, but not written. - How then will the peoples who speak them be able to read them?

In Italy, the firm of Edouard Sonzogno, of Milan, which has branches in Florence and Venice, is the representative of France. Mr. Sonzogno is the popularizer of our literature and ideas. Correspondent of our great newspapers and publishers, with a rare tact and intelligence, he has our best works translated and creates a sympathy between the two nations which has its source in a community of ideas and principles.

We have completed this review, though not without difficulty, we must confess. By an unfortunate coincidence, none of the exhibitors has a suitable representative at the Champ de Mars who could introduce visitors to certain details which the most conscientious and thorough examination cannot reveal. Everything is left to the kindness of the guards, who do not remember enough that they are paid to satisfy all the demands of the public. They have the keys to the glass cases in which most of the books are kept, and it is only with perfect bad grace that they decide, after repeated requests from the curious, to open them. Any visitor to them is an enemy who infringes their right to laziness and somnolence. This state of affairs is very harmful to the interests of the exhibitors, and it would be easy to prove that the public only stops where it can touch or see at ease.

©L'Exposition Universelle de 1867 Illustrée