Printing In Cambridge Since 1800 by Norman Hill White, Jr.

Printing In Cambridge Since 1800

By Norman Hill White, Jr.

Read January 27, 1920


From 1692, when Samuel Green retired as manager of the college press, there was no printing done in Cambridge for over a hundred years, except that done by the brothers Samuel and Ebenezer Hall in 1775, under the direction of the Committee of Safety. The Halls were called to Cambridge from Salem in May of that year, shortly after the commencement of the war, and installed in the college, the Committee of Safety ordering “that the Quartermaster-General be directed to clear that chamber in Stoughton Hall occupied by S. Parsons, Jr., as a printing office for Messrs. Hall.”


Here the two brothers printed for the approximate period of a year for the State Convention and the army, both at that time with headquarters in Cambridge. They also continued to print their weekly paper, the Essex Gazette and New England Chronicle. After the British army left Boston in 1776, Samuel Hall moved from Cambridge to that city — alone, as his younger brother Ebenezer died at the age of twenty-seven, during February of that year.


In 1800, William Hilliard began printing in Cambridge with a new press and types, on what is now known as Hilliard Street.​1​ Without doubt he was immediately given work by the College, for the proximity of his press and the quality of his work must have given him a great advantage over the Boston printers.


In 1802, on the Commencement “broadside” of that year, occurs the first use of the name “University Press, William Hilliard.” In my possession is a pamphlet with the imprint “Printed at the University Press at Cambridge by William Hilliard, 1804.” The title of this pamphlet is “Prayer by the Rev. Dr. Lathrop and Eulogy by Professor Webber at the Funeral of Rev. Joseph Willard, S.T.D., LL.D., President of the University in Cambridge; with a Sermon, The Next Lord’s Day, by the Rev. Mr. Holmes.” On the back of the very pleasing cover page, which is ornamented by a border and a large type ornament in the shape of a vase, is an “Extract from Votes of the Corporation of Harvard College”:


“The holy providence of God having on the twenty-fifth instant removed by death the Rev. President Willard;


“September 27, voted, that Professor Webber be requested to deliver an Eulogy at the Funeral on Saturday the 29th; and the Rev. Dr. Lathrop to introduce, and the Rev. Mr. Holmes to conclude the Solemnity with prayer.”


“October 5, voted, that the Rev. Dr. Lathrop be requested to furnish a copy of his Prayer, and Professor Webber a copy of his Eulogy, delivered at the Funeral of the late President Willard; and the Rev. Mr. Holmes a copy of his Sermon, delivered in the afternoon of the next Lord’s Day; and that the same be published at the expense of the University.”


This excerpt shows that the name “University Press” was in 1804 well established, and that at this time Hilliard was evidently doing the regular printing for the College.


I have a pamphlet containing “The Laws of Harvard College.” It is very interesting in its contents as well as its printing history. The opening paragraph reads:


“Candidates for admission into Harvard College shall be examined by the President, and two, at least, of the Tutors. No one shall be admitted, unless he can translate Greek and Latin Authors, in common use, such as Tully, Virgil, and the New Testament; understands the rules of Grammar and Prosody; can write Latin correctly, and hath a good moral character.”


This pamphlet bears the imprint “Boston: printed by John and Thomas Fleet, at the Bible and Heart, Cornhill, 1798.” As a rule, the imprints of the Fleets were set down in Latin, but as the “Laws” are printed in English, the printer’s imprint also is in that language. There is no note made in this instance of this imprint that John and Thomas Fleet had any official connection with Harvard College, but as a rule in the College Catalogues which were printed in Latin, the Fleets made note of their connection with the University. Another pamphlet which interests me is a Catalogue printed in Latin which bears the following imprint: “Bostoniae: Typis Thomae & Johannis Fleet, Academiae Typographorum, MDCCLXXVI. Annoque Reipublicae Americanae primo.” (In the first year of the American Republic.) As a rule the Fleets made note that they were either “Academiae Typographorum” or “Universitatis Typographorum.”


The last record of which I have knowledge concerning the printing for the College being done in Boston is the “Catalogue of 1800” from the types of John and Thomas Fleet. That same year, as we have said, William Hilliard arrived in Cambridge.


The imprint of the Catalogue of 1806 is as follows:




Gulielmo Hilliard Typographo.



SUMMAE Potestatis Anno XXXI.”


The Catalogue of Harvard College in 1809 bears the imprint



e Universitatis Typographeo:

Hilliard et E. W. Metcalf, Typographis.


Rerumpublicarum Foederatarum Americae Summae


Anno XXXIV.”


In 1811, the imprint of an edition of Dalzel’s “Collectanea Graeca Majora” tells us that Hilliard and Metcalf were associates at that time also. In the Catalogues of 1821 and 1824 appears the same imprint; but that of 1827 states that “Hilliard, Metcalf, et Soc.” were the “Typographis.”


Charles Folsom of the Class of 1813 became identified with the Press in the year 1813. There is no external evidence of this in the imprints until the change of the imprint in 1827 adds a “Company” to the names “Hilliard and Metcalf.” Folsom had a very high reputation and by his scholarship did much to increase the fame that the University Press had already gained for good printing. Practically all the textbooks used in the College were printed there. Folsom was librarian of the College from 1823 to 1826 and must have been a very well educated man; for during his proprietorship of the Press books were printed in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, French, Italian, German, and Spanish. Among other books issued at this time were Sparks’s edition of Washington’s writings and also his American Biography and Prescott’s histories.


In 1842 the Press passed into the hands of Charles R. Metcalf, Owen S. Keith, and George Nichols; but within a year Mr. Keith retired and Marshall T. Bigelow entered the firm.


Eliab W. Metcalf and Hilliard had become associated some time prior to 1811, and it was two years later that Charles Folsom became identified with the Press. Metcalf and Hilliard together printed on what is now the site of the Boston Bookbinding Company, owned by Mr. Norman H. White. Their building, parts of which are still used by the Bookbinding Company, was situated at 10 Arrow Street, directly off Bow Street. These two streets are so named because of their peculiar relation to each other, which forms a bow and arrow. Here Hilliard had moved when Metcalf joined him as a partner.


It is not known whether Charles R. Metcalf, who later in 1842 became associated with the University Press, was the son of Eliab Metcalf or not. It is believed that he was. After Hilliard and Metcalf had been printing some years together, or in other words about 1820, a new office was started in Cambridge by the name of Dakin and Metcalf. This Metcalf was the son of Hilliard’s partner and probably the same Charles R. Metcalf who in 1842 became one of the owners of the University Press, probably succeeding to his father’s interest.


In 1859, the firm name was changed to Welch, Bigelow and Company, and in 1865 this firm was printing in a three-story frame building situated on Holyoke Street directly upon the site 19 now covered by the Spee Club and the Big Tree Swimming Pool. The building ran south upon Holyoke Street, leaving only an alley way between that building which is now the Catholic Church and the southern end. On the northern side, an ell ran from east to west forming between the two divisions a courtyard. Entrance was gained by means of a driveway through the building into the courtyard beyond. Holyoke House, which now would separate such a building from Massachusetts Avenue, had not then been built.


In 1865 Welch, Bigelow and Company moved to the “Brattle House,” which was situated where the subway now enters the ground at Brattle Square. The Brattle House was built around 1850 for a hotel, presumably to be used by the college trade. Shortly after its establishment, it was decided that the Commencement dinner should take place at the new hotel. In order to take care of the great number of guests it was necessary to have the food, or a great deal of it, cooked outside. Thus, some of the food was left standing on the table for a little time before the guests arrived. It appears to have been a very hot day and this undoubtedly caused the food to spoil, and when the students arrived with their friends they indignantly dumped it all out of the windows. This sounded the knell of the “Brattle House” as a hotel and within a year or so it was given up. It passed into the hands of the Massachusetts Hospital Insurance Company, which held the mortgage when in 1865 Welch, Bigelow and Company moved into the building.


At the time the firm moved to this new location, Welch, who was a very progressive and energetic man, had imported from France two cylinder-presses, which were the first ones in this country. He appears to have been the moving spirit of the firm and was of a very mechanical and ingenious term of mind. His full name was Albion Kent Parish Welch.


The trained printer of the firm was Marshall T. Bigelow, and it was he who had actual management of the press work and composition.


From 1865 until 1879 Welch, Bigelow and Company printed very successfully in the “Brattle House,” doing the bulk of their work for James R. Osgood and Company, the publishers, and for Harvard College. Osgood and Company were the pub- 20 lishers of the best writers in this country at that time. The productions of Holmes, Sparks, Prescott, Ticknor, Palfrey, Judge Story, Quincy, Everett, Hilliard, Dana, Longfellow, Hawthorne, Whittier, Emerson, Lowell, and many others were printed by Welch, Bigelow and Company for Osgood.


For some reason this successful publishing firm failed in 1879. With such books and authors it is hard to see, unless it came through gross mismanagement, why any publishing house should fail. Welch, Bigelow and Company, who were immediately involved with James R. Osgood and Company’s failure, were themselves drawn down.


In 1865, immediately after Welch, Bigelow and Company removed from Holyoke Street, John Wilson and Son, printers, moved out from Boston and took up business in the establishment vacated by Welch, Bigelow and Company. Here they printed from 1865 to 1879 when upon the failure of the firm of Welch, Bigelow and Company, the failing Company was bought out by John Wilson and Son together with Mr. Charles E. Wentworth. The entrance of Mr. Charles E. Wentworth did not change the firm name of John Wilson and Son. They took over the title sometimes used by Welch, Bigelow and Company of “The University Press.”


From 1879 until 1895 the printing establishment of John Wilson and Son printed successfully in Brattle Square for the College and for different publishers.


At the time when the firm of Osgood and Company failed, they had, as has been mentioned, an exceedingly desirable list of authors. S. D. Warren and Company, large paper makers, were interested in the continued publication of works by the men on Osgood’s list. It has been said that they bought the copyrights from the firm and from the authors.


At any rate, H. O. Houghton, who is now known as having been the founder of the famous publishing house of Houghton, Mifflin and Company and also the Riverside Press of Cambridge, bought from S. D. Warren and Company practically their entire list of authors. John Wilson was the practical printer of the firm of John Wilson and Son. He was the “Son” of the firm name, and his father had been an excellent printer before him. In 1894, through unfortunate outside influences which had nothing to do with the amount and quality of the work which the firm was doing, but which had involved the credit of the firm, John Wilson and Son failed and William B. Reid was appointed receiver. Mr. Reid had been long with the firm, joining it in 1865 when it moved from Boston to Holyoke Street, Cambridge.


A corporation was formed with Mr. John Wilson as President and Mr. Henry White, President of the Cambridge Trust Company, as Treasurer. Through the interest and financial support of Henry White and Herbert H. White, his son, the corporation of John Wilson and Son, with the added name “The University Press” was formed. After about a year John Wilson resigned and Mr. Henry White was elected President with Mr. Herbert White as Treasurer.


William Dana Orcutt, who had married the daughter of John Wilson, the younger, became in 1895 the actual manager of the printing done by the “University Press.” He was assisted by Mr. William B. Reid, who had been and who still is with the firm of John Wilson and Son since 1865. Orcutt was a very clever man and did much to build up the reputation for fine printing which the Press holds. He made several trips to Europe in the artistic interests of the Press, and these were without doubt very advantageous to the firm’s reputation. He left the Press in 1910.


Frank Hull was appointed manager of the Press in 1910, following Orcutt’s resignation. Mr. Hull was trained as a printer in the Winthrop Press in New York and has given his life to the work. The Press is at present under his management in all ways other than the financial control.


In 1895, immediately after the forming of the corporation, a new building was begun on the river bank of the Charles not far from Brattle Square. The Press moved into this building in March of 1896. Here it is at present situated.


The Press is at present doing work for the College, although to a great extent the college work is taken care of by the Harvard University Press under the management of Mr. Harold Mur-dock, assisted by Bruce Rogers.


The University Press thus assumes to date its beginning back to 1639 when Stephen and Matthew Day began printing on the 22 Glover press. It seems to have more reason to claim the name of University Press than to claim the date 1639 as its foundation. It cannot deny the lapse of one hundred and eight years in its printing history, but it cannot, on the other hand, be denied that the Press is the logical outgrowth of that started by William Hilliard in 1800; and that, furthermore, he followed in succession (even though a hundred and eight years interlapsed) the press of Samuel Green, as printer to the College, now grown to be the University.


Thus it seems to me, though it is a little far-fetched, the claim of the University Press that it is the outgrowth of the original Glover Press which started in Cambridge in 1639 is entirely valid and it must be so conceded.


1 Said to have been known originally as “Woodbine Lane.” — S. F. B​.


This article can be found in the Proceedings of the Cambridge Historical Society Volume 15, from the years 1920-1921.