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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Baltimore Printing History: "The Printing Office"




Here’s an interesting printer’s receipt I bought recently from an Austin dealer because the word “Books” appeared in the upper, left corner of the paper. It probably refers to blank books, but I liked the look of it enough to buy it anyway.

This paper predates the Civil War and given Baltimore’s rich colonial and Revolutionary history, I thought there could be a connection to some interesting history beyond the date on the paper. I think I may have been rewarded for my reasoning.

I find nothing of historical significance about the printing transaction indicated—payment received from a Mr. Francis V. Moale, an estate trustee, for 25 handbills. But the building where “The Printing Office” was headquartered is the portal for a look back into not only Baltimore’s history, but American Revolutionary history.

The Sun Iron Building, where the printer was located, was built in 1851 and was one of the first iron-frame buildings in the city and served as a model for other buildings. Sadly, it was destroyed in the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904.

But the site where it was built had also once been the address of a printer named William Goddard, who, coincidentally (or not), called his business The Printing-Office (with a hyphen). He started the business in 1773 in the house that once occupied the same lot where the Sun Iron Building later stood with its Printing Office.

A year later, his sister Katherine Goddard would join him in the business, where William had also begun publishing two Baltimore newspapers--the Maryland Journal and the Baltimore Advertiser. There are many links to pages about Katherine Goddard, but I chose the one above because it's the only one I found that has an image of her. Christopher T. George provides a more detailed account of her life at http://www.baltimoremd.com/monuments/goddard.html.

This is where the history gets real interesting. By 1775, Katherine's name began appearing in the paper as Publisher and Editor. While not a first in the Colonies, it was unusual. She quickly gained a solid reputation in the printing business and that year was also named Postmaster of Baltimore. That was unusual and likely is the first appointment in the colonies of a woman to that position.

She began publishing news of events leading to the war for American independence. In 1777, she published the first printing of the Declaration of Independence that included the signers' names.

Certain radical groups, chief among them the Whig Club, tried to censure what she printed, such as criticism of General Washington several years into the war. She fought back for the freedom of speech and the press.

She continued in her roles as publisher, editor and postmaster well into the 1780s, when she was unfairly, it would seem, relieved of her postmaster duties and had a falling out with her brother, after which she left the newspaper business William started.

But that wasn't the end of her entrepreneurial endeavors. She continued on as a publisher and published her own almanac, which competed with that of her brother's. She also opened and operated a bookstore in Baltimore until 1802 when she retired from business altogether. She died in 1816 at the age of 78, having lived an eventful life in which she engaged the causes of independence, freedom of the press, and even women's rights.

So can I connect my 1851 Printing Office receipt to a colonial printing office that evolved with a fledgling young nation’s struggle to turn its declaration for independence into the realization of a truly independent country?

On July 3, 1887, the New York Times published a brief article that confirms my assumptions about the connection between the Goddard's The Printing-Office and the Sun Iron Building's The Printing Office more than 75 years later. I found the article here in the archives.

What I haven't discovered yet is if, after William Goddard sold or closed the business in the 1790s, the business continued on in the new century under the same name, ultimately moving into the new Sun Iron Building in 1851. Or, perhaps, the proprietors of the reincarnated The Printing Office had a good sense of the history that preceded it on that site and paid homage to the Goddards by reviving the name of their business. The search continues...




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