Printing books in days of yore

Confederate printers improvised with rags, wallpaper during paper shortage

Mike Selby

Cranbrook Public Library

“Rags! Rags!! Rags!!!” read a small ad placed in a Georgian newspaper in July of 1863. Not only were “rags” desperately needed, but also “old ledgers, cash books, old journals,” and “old blank books of any kind.” Wallpaper, as well as gift wrapping paper, would also be most welcome. Any readers who had this kind of material were asked to send it Wellington Stevenson—the owner of the very newspaper which this odd advertisement appeared. Stevenson found himself in the worst position a publisher could ever be in: he was out of paper.

By the time his ad appeared, the United States had been fractured in half for two years. The complete eradication of slavery ignited the American Civil War, with a clear line drawn between the Northern and Southern states. While many have at least heard of Confederate currency, less known is the Confederate Imprint: thousands of books printed in what was at the time being called the Confederate States of America.

As the South broke away from the rest of the country, it no longer wished to be dependent on reading material from the North. This may have been more practical than political. Whether they wanted it or not, the South wasn’t getting anything from the North. They were also unable to acquire books from Europe, and the North had effectively blockaded the South’s sea ports. With the capture of New Orleans, sheet music—of prime importance to southern culture—was no longer available.

Declaring their independence from the United States, the Confederacy wished to print “Southern thought, imagination, and taste,” hoping to instill “an independence in thought and education.”

Of course, this was easier said than done. Not only had paper become an endangered species, but ink did as well. Ever resourceful, the Confederate printers tried new recipes using fig juice, poison oak, pomegranates and a plant known as American pokeweed. Even black shoe polish was tried at one time, but the printing became messy and illegible.

Just what books were they able to publish?

The first book published under the Confederate imprint was a typical yet bizarre one titled “Mutual Relations of Masters and Slaves as Taught in the Bible.” Written by Woodrow Wilson’s father, this book somehow equated “slavery” with “freedom.”

More interesting is “A Manual of Military Surgery,” which was bound in fabric from an old dress; and “Rifle and Infantry Tactics,”–bound in wallpaper. “Tanhauser: Or The Battle of the Bards” is a book of poetry printed on a paper-like material used for making coats. “Southern Confederacy Arithmetic” and “Our Own School Arithmetic” were both bound in wave-grain cloth. (Did they really need their own arithmetic?)

Kittrel J. Warren’s “Ups and Downs of Wife Hunting” would almost be the oddest title of the Confederacy Imprint, if it was not for “A Complete Biographical Sketch of Stonewall Jackson: Giving a Full and Accurate Account of the Leading events of his Military Career, His Dying Moments, and the Obsequies at Richmond and Lexington.” At only a few dozen pages, this title is almost as long as the book itself.

Another short work was “Ordinance of secession, passed Jan’ry 19, 1861, with the Names of the Signers.” It, however, was completely printed on silk.

Unlike their currency, the Confederate Imprint ended long before the war did. But in that brief flash of independence they were able to print 7,000 items; an amazing example of a people’s ingenuity and resolve under the worst of circumstances.

Just Posted

Intoxicated man tries to enter wrong house in Kimberley

Kimberley RCMP officer followed tracks in fresh snow to locate him

Memorial Arena set to open this week

Cranbrook gets an early Christmas present as Memorial Arena opens after four-month repairs

SPCA puts out fundraising call for Bumble the kitty

Stray cat taken into care needs surgery to remove eyes because of glaucoma

Kimberley’s Molly Miller qualifies for World Juniors

Cross country skier heads to Finland in January

Story of the Year: Deadly Humboldt Broncos bus crash

The Canadian Press annual survey of newsrooms across the country saw 53 out of 129 editors cast their votes for the Humboldt Broncos bus crash.

Notorious Toronto triple killer gets third consecutive life sentence

Dellen Millard gets third consecutive life sentence for father’s death.

‘Subdued’ housing market predicted in B.C. through 2021: report

The Central 1 Credit Union report predicts “rising but subdued sales” over the next three years, with little movement in median home prices.

Highlights from the Dec. 7/18 RDEK board meeting

Ten Year Service Awards The Board recognized Lori Engler and Sanford Brown… Continue reading

A journey through 2018’s top pop culture moments

Was there any pop culture this year? Of course there was.

‘A stronger Alberta:’ Ottawa announces $1.6B for Canada’s oil and gas sector

Price of Alberta oil plummeted so low that Alberta’s Premier said Canada was practically giving it away

Wicked weather, including heavy snow, rainfall, hammers southern B.C.

Environment Canada has posted winter storm warnings for the Coquihalla Highway, Highway 3

Caretaker jailed, must pay back money after stealing $260K from elderly B.C. couple

Antonette Dizon, now 50, had been hired to provide extra care for Henry and Helen Abfalter

Retailers feel the squeeze of their generous return policies

Technology data tracking can clamp down on fraudulent abuse

Most Read