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The 19th century saw a massive expansion of the printed word. The sheer volume and diversity of printed matter was unprecedented: from moral and instructional works to crime novels and Gothic tales; from intellectual periodicals to domestic magazines; from etiquette manuals to cookery books. In addition, these works were reaching broader audiences than ever before, from across the social scale. This expansion can be attributed to two key factors. The first is the range of (broadly speaking) technological developments that increased the capacity for the supply of print: the technological improvements in printing itself and in paper production; and the new distribution networks enabled by improved roads and then, crucially, the advent of the railway. The second factor is the set of social and educational changes that increased the demand for printed matter: rising literacy rates, particularly among the middle and working classes, created a new mass market for printed material of various kinds.
In the 19th century posters, such as this one, were able to be produced in large numbers and cheaply thanks to advancements in printing technologies.View images from this item (1)
The printing press already had a long history: it was invented in Germany by Joannes Gutenberg around 1440, and brought to England by William Caxton in the 1470s. Yet the basic technology of printing remained fundamentally the same up to the end of the 18th century, requiring two men to manually operate a wooden screw press, producing about 200 impressions an hour. The 19th century was the period in which this process was mechanised, automated, and made many times faster.
A key moment in the development of mass circulation newspapers was the development of the steam-powered rotary press, adopted by the Times in 1814. The new presses were capable of printing 1000 sheets per hour – around five times the number produced by the machines they replaced. The editor, John Walter, had the machines installed secretly at night, so that when his printers reported for duty the next morning the majority of them found that they were out of work; their jobs now completely obsolete. The Times went from a circulation of 5,000 a day in 1815 to around 50,000 in the middle of the century. This was not caused solely by the rotary steam press, but neither could it have happened without it.
Later developments enhanced this effect: the Applegath cylinder machine (exhibited at the Great Exhibition in 1851) achieved 5,000 impressions per hour, and the Hoe press, an import from the United States, was capable of 20,000 impressions per hour. Increases in the speed and efficiency of paper manufacture in this period brought down the cost of printed material both for the manufacturer and the consumer. In 1896, the Daily Mail—'The Busy Man's Daily Journal'—was launched at the cost of only half a penny, and by 1900 it was selling nearly 1,000,000 copies a day.
The Hoe Rotary Machine illustrated here in Frederick Wilson’s A Practical Treatise upon modern printing machinery and letterpress printing (1888) was able to print 20,000 newspaper sheets per hour, bringing an increase in the size of newspapers in the 1860s.View images from this item (1)
Mudie’s Catalogue, April 1878. Mudie’s lending library exerted considerable control over both authors and readers; the annual subscription fee appeared to be a bargain for readers, while Mudie’s demand that novels be published in three volumes (which they bought at half the price they were sold to the public) allowed each novel to be lent to three readers simultaneously. This in turn influenced the length, structure and complexity of the novel form.View images from this item (7)
Literature at Nurse, a pamphlet about the censorship of literature, 1885. Mudie’s lending library had a loyal market of middle-class readers, and selected works to appeal to this group’s tastes and morals. It was inevitable that Musie’s should be seen as directing public tastes and morals, which some writers felt was little short of censorship.View images from this item (8)
Charles Dickens’s Bleak House was first published in 20 monthly instalments between March 1852 and September 1853.View images from this item (15)
The Education Act of 1870 provided for compulsory education up to the age of 13, in publicly funded schools Religious education was to be non-denominational and schools would be inspected in order that standards should be maintained.View images from this item (4)
On the one hand, these new cheaper formats were very flexible. They could serve as cheap reprints of serious novels that had been previously published as triple-deckers, or equally as first editions of more sensational material aimed at a lower-middle-class or working-class readership. By the 1880s they played an important role in the late-Victorian romance revival, which saw writers such as Robert Louis Stevenson, H G Wells, and H Rider Haggard finding popular success with adventure stories, Gothic tales, and scientific romances, generally aimed at boys. Such classics as Treasure Island, The Time Machine, and Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde were thus partly the product of the changes in the production, distribution and consumption of print that have been described in this article.
 Matthew Taunton, 'Production' and Kery Chez 'Daily Mail'', in The Dictionary of Nineteenth-Century Journalism, ed. by Laurel Brake and Marysa Demoor (London: British Library, 2010). Richard D. Altick, The English Common Reader: A Social History of the Mass Reading Public, 1800-1900, 2nd edn (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2nd edn. 1998) passim.
 Altick, The English Common Reader.
 Kate Flint, 'The Victorian Novel and its Readers', in The Cambridge Companion to the Victorian Novel, ed. by Deirdre David, 2nd edn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012) pp.13-35 and The Woman Reader 1837-1914 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993).
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