The Printshop as “Armoury in Defence of Ourselves”

It’s not surprising that an event as significant as World War II would have found it’s way into every crevice of daily life. Here’s a piece of ephemera that documents at first hand how even the printing houses became a part of the war effort.

This is the 1939 Safety Manual compiled by the Oxford University Press:

It offered useful wartime advice, for instance, how to evacuate the building:

Our copy is accompanied by a letter to Daniel Berkeley Updike from John Johnson, Printer to the University. Johnson is apparently responding to a typographical question from Updike, and as explanation for his delay in writing he offers the following justification:

I have been leading two lives, the life of a very busy printer (it has been the busiest year I ever remember) and the life of a busy organizer in defence of the Press and this quarter of the town. You people may live to realize that danger to your own dearest ideals is on your doorstep. It is certain that men living and working here only a few years ago would have called it fantastic if they had been told that their old wetting cellar, where they used to hang their damped paper, would become a veritable armoury in defence of ourselves.

(Click thumbnails to read the entire letter.)

Johnson later commends the “quite confidence born of careful preparation” of the employees of the press as they too balance daily tasks and wartime preparations. The wetting cellar turned armory is a vivid symbol for the transformation of the peacetime realm of the printer into an element of the war effort, the plowshares-into-swords of the book trade.

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