Vintage Film Shows How the Oxford English Dictionary Was Made in 1925

There was lots of mon­ey to be made at the end of the 19th cen­tu­ry and Dud­ley Dock­er made his share of it. He was what they called a “baron of indus­try” at a time when man­u­fac­tur­ing was explod­ing in Britain. Dock­er made his for­tune in paint, motor­cy­cles, arms man­u­fac­tur­ing, rail­ways, and bank­ing. He was an indus­tri­al boost­er, act­ing as one of the three major financiers behind Ernest Shackleton’s Trans-Antarc­tic Expe­di­tion. In 1916, he found­ed a major asso­ci­a­tion of British indus­try to pro­mote busi­ness inter­ests.

A charm­ing result of that work is a recent­ly dig­i­tized film made in 1925 to demon­strate the work inside Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty Press. For book arts lovers, this is a fas­ci­nat­ing peek into the ear­ly days of mech­a­nized print­ing.

Above we watch a work­er use a mould to make lead type, hun­dreds of them, by pour­ing the molten lead in at the top, mak­ing a quick upward motion and releas­ing the quick­ly dried type. A sep­a­rate team of work­ers then sets up mono­type com­pos­ing machines, and we watch as men demon­strate their use.

The film fol­lows the process of print­ing a run of Oxford Eng­lish Dic­tio­nar­ies. Books were bound by gen­der-divid­ed teams: A room of women labored in the “girls” bindery sec­tion while men bound books in their own sep­a­rate room. We see the sewing, cut­ting and the fas­ci­nat­ing process of gild­ing the page edges.

In our dig­i­tal age, the old ana­log process­es take on a new, deep­er sig­nif­i­cance. This film presents a ter­rif­ic 18-minute tuto­r­i­al on one of the great­est achieve­ments of the mod­ern age: print­ing mass quan­ti­ties of bound books.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Mak­ing of a Stein­way Grand Piano, From Start to Fin­ish

How Walt Dis­ney Car­toons Are Made (1939)

Spike Jonze Presents a Stop Motion Film for Book Lovers

The His­to­ry of the Eng­lish Lan­guage in Ten Ani­mat­ed Min­utes

Kate Rix writes about edu­ca­tion and dig­i­tal media. Fol­low her on Twit­ter.

by | Permalink | Comments (4) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (4)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.