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Post-Colonial Printing

American printing came into its own at the end of the eighteenth century. By then most materials needed for book production could be obtained locally; it was no longer necessary to turn to Europe for paper, ink, type, or presses. In the century’s last decade, 13,000 titles were published in America. Many of these were the familiar almanac, pamphlet, or religious texts, but textbooks, spellers, arithmetics, and primers were also among that number.

By the time Isaiah Thomas (1749–1831), patriot printer and founder of the American Antiquarian Society, wrote History of Printing in America in 1810, 360 newspapers, including more than 20 dailies, were in print in the United States—more than in the entire circulation of Great Britain. Books published in the U.S. were still relatively expensive compared to their British counterparts. Full-length texts were uncommon, especially belle lettres or fine literature. Although moralistic works, such as Francis Bacon’s Essays or John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, were colonial blockbusters and religious texts still dominated the market, there is evidence that thousands of people were reading short stories, novels, and children’s books. With the onset of mechanized printing only a few years away, America would soon be awash in the printed page.
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