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Printing heritage

The first printing shops in São Paulo were established by lawyers and politicians

Masters and apprentices at the Salesian Sacred Heart of Jesus School in 1912

Sacred Heart of Jesus Trade Schools (C. 1912, Author Unknown)/Mary Help of Christians Salesian School Archives /

During the 100-year period between 1827 and 1927 there were more than two hundred letterpress printing shops in operation in São Paulo City. The first printing houses were mostly established by professors and students of the São Paulo Law Academy, now the School of Law at the University of São Paulo (USP), many of whom would later become councilors, deputies, governors, and ministers. These are some of the findings from a research project titled “São Paulo’s printing heritage: Movable type printing in the nineteenth and early twentieth century,” led by Priscila Lena Farias of the Department of Design at the USP School of Architecture and Urban Planning (FAU-USP). For seven years, she explored the period preceding the institutionalization of design in Brazil in the 1950s, in a study that reveals hitherto unknown aspects of the country’s printing culture.

Typography—the art of arranging and printing text with types—comprises different steps: creating letters and transferring them to a matrix, casting types of lead or carving them out of wood, composing the texts, and printing the document. Ronaldo de Oliveira Correa, a professor in the Department of Design at the Federal University of Paraná (UFPR), says that research such as Farias’s on the history of Brazil’s printing industry between the nineteenth and twentieth century has shown that artists were actively shaping Brazil’s visual identity much earlier than previously thought. “The modernist designers of the 1950s then dialoged with this language in constructing their own creations,” Correa says. Farias reports that in 1823, São Paulo government officials began campaigning to set up printing houses in the city such as the ones existing in Rio de Janeiro since 1808. The printing shops in São Paulo would be used primarily for the publication and printing of government decrees, laws, and reports from the junta that governed the province. “The Legislative Assembly of São Paulo was founded in 1834 and the need to officially publish its minutes led to the decision by the São Paulo government to purchase a printing press,” Farias explains.

Sacred Heart of Jesus Trade Schools (C. 1912, Author Unknown)/Mary Help of Christians Salesian School Archives / Salesians pioneered trade schools providing type foundry training in São PauloSacred Heart of Jesus Trade Schools (C. 1912, Author Unknown)/Mary Help of Christians Salesian School Archives /

But the decision was never implemented. In 1827, the lawyer José da Costa Carvalho (1796–1860), Marquis of Monte Alegre, took it upon himself to order printing machinery from England, which was later installed on what today is Rua Libero Badaró, in downtown São Paulo. At the new printing shop, the soon-to-be director of the School of Law (1835–1836) and deputy for the province of São Paulo (1838–1841) began to publish O Farol Paulistano, São Paulo’s first newspaper. The newspaper remained in circulation up to 1832, featuring news and opinion articles. By 1840, 22 newspapers were in circulation in São Paulo; 55 new titles appeared between 1851 and 1860; and another 273 between 1881 and 1890. “The growing number of newspapers was matched by an expanding number of printing houses,” Farias explains, and reflected the economic, political, and educational development of the city.

The study, funded by FAPESP and the Brazilian National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq), found that the longest-lasting printing house in the city was a shop owned by the German Jorge Seckler (circa 1840–1890), which operated for almost three decades until mid-1891. “In São Paulo there was a strong presence of printers of German and Italian origin, while in Rio de Janeiro the Portuguese and French were dominant,” she says. The professionals working at the foundries supplying types to the printers were also from these countries. In São Paulo, Salesians from the Sacred Heart of Jesus School created the first trade schools providing training on type foundry work. When printing houses began to be introduced in Brazil, between the nineteenth and the twentieth century, they had already long been mainstreamed in the European market. In London, for example, there were about 500 printing shops between 1850 and 1914.

Trade almanacs such as Almanak Administrativo, Mercantil, e Industrial da provincia de S. Paulo, printed by Seckler, were reviewed in the study to identify the key figures on the printing scene. These publications, which were popular in the nineteenth century in many parts of the world, including South American capitals, contained agricultural calendars and compendiums with information about institutions and prominent figures. The page layout was characterized by short texts, tables, address lists, and advertising. “Unlike books, almanacs did not have a linear layout; instead, they used letters of different sizes and shapes and incorporated varied styles of composition,” Farias notes.

According to the researcher, almanacs can provide insight into how printers’ repertoires evolved over time. “Ornate letters, and vignettes in ad sections, were gradually introduced in almanacs and newspapers. In the newspapers published in the 1820s and 1830s, for example, we found only discrete ornaments used as dividers or frames.” Farias notes that the few ads, which generally concerned fugitive slaves, were essentially typographical. Ornamentation appeared only in the 1840s, in the mastheads of newspapers such as A Violeta. The first illustrated advertisement was for “forest syrup,” on the last page of d’O Piratininga, a newspaper printed at Typographia da Viuva Sobral. Ten years later, Typographia Imparcial, owned by Joaquim Roberto de Azevedo Marques, began publishing almanacs.

Melhoramentos archive / The printing house Weiszflog Irmãos e Cia, in 1906: typesetting was done manuallyMelhoramentos archive /

Four kinds of typefaces were used most frequently at printing houses in the city during the study period. The first were serif or roman letters (see illustration), which were common in running texts in smaller print, contrasting with the typefaces used for headlines and teasers. Serifs are strokes used to terminate the stems of certain letters. The second category—cursive or blackletter—was used less frequently and mostly confined to advertisements. “The more ornate the typefaces, the less frequently they were used in almanacs. They were mostly employed to differentiate products or advertisers,” says Farias. The “decorative” or “bold” category, characterized by heavier and more robust typefaces, appeared in larger print to give emphasis to ads placed on the same page. Sans serif, or grotesque, typefaces were the least frequent.

Initially, types were made of lead at foundries using matrices brought from Europe. The composition of texts and advertisements involved manually selecting letters, or movable types, and printing them individually. This work was done by typesetters who, in general, learned the trade on the job. “Research on the period prior to the institutionalization of design in Brazil shows how, without a university education, these professionals were nevertheless able to solve complex design problems,” says Edna Cunha Lima, a professor in the Department of Arts and Design at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (PUC-RJ). Since serif typefaces, which were used extensively in printed texts, were prone to wear and breakage, the printing houses—where newspapers, almanacs, and other documents were typically printed for multiple customers—had to regularly order replacements from foundries. Most printing was black and white or a single color on white paper. “It was only in the later decades of the nineteenth century that printed matter in more than one color began to be produced in São Paulo. Color printing in the nineteenth century was typically done using lithographic printing methods,” Farias explains. Decorative typefaces used in 1878 and

Created in the second half of the eighteenth century in Europe, lithographic printing methods produced better print finish, more vibrant colors, and better contrast compared to letterpress printing. Some printing houses, such as Sociedade de Artes Graphicas, which operated between 1907 and 1918, used both techniques. In 1905, the installation of the first automated linotype, or hot metal typesetting, machine in São Paulo marked the end of manual typesetting.

“In my research, I found printing houses that were dedicated to printing for groups of non-Portuguese immigrants that had recently arrived in São Paulo. Most were linked to German, Italian, and Spanish communities and produced printed materials in these languages,” says Farias. A printing house explicitly linked to the Arab community, called Typographia Syria, owned by the Candalatf brothers, was only opened in the early twentieth century. “In the São Paulo State Archives there are copies of newspapers produced for this community. These newspapers used movable types with Arabic characters combined with Latin typefaces,” she notes.

Printing houses in Brazil have only recently become a subject of research—about 30 years ago when the first graduate programs in design were created. “Before 1980, the historiography of Brazilian design began at the onset of modernist industrial design, which was introduced in the country along with the first undergraduate programs in design,” Farias says.

Brasiliana Guita Library and José Mindlin | Wikipedia Left, one of the almanacs referenced in the study and the newspaper O Farol Paulistano, published by the first printing house in São PauloBrasiliana Guita Library and José Mindlin | Wikipedia

Other territories 
Printing was banned in Brazil until the Portuguese court moved to Rio de Janeiro, in 1808. Things then began to change when the first printing house, Impressão Régia, was established. Printing presses similar to the models developed by Johannes Gutenberg (1394–1468) in the 1400s were imported from England. “Prior to this, only a handful of printing houses are known to have existed in Brazil, such as one operated by a Portuguese printer in Rio de Janeiro in the eighteenth century without permission from the crown,” says Farias. In Rio de Janeiro, printing houses such as Livraria Universal and Tipografia Laemmert, created by the German brothers Eduard and Heinrich Laemmert, were some of the largest in Brazil. They also doubled as publishers, producing the Almanaque Laemmert between 1844 and 1889.

Francisco Inácio Scaramelli Man de Melo, a professor in the Visual Programming Disciplines Group at FAU-USP’s Design Department, explains that because printing was only brought into the mainstream in Brazil in 1808, the country had no skilled printers. At the turn of the twentieth century, letterpress and lithography printing was largely carried out by European immigrants, especially in São Paulo. “The visual language of the period clearly shows European visual patterns, including the Art Nouveau style,” he says, referring to the artistic movement that emerged in 1890 and which reflected the fast-paced nature of modern city life.

P. Sarcinelli archive / Sociedade de Artes Graphicas, in 1910: the printing house used both movable type and lithographic printing techniquesP. Sarcinelli archive /

Another Brazilian city with a strong printing tradition is Recife. Silvio Barreto Campello, a professor in the Design Department at the Federal University of Pernambuco (UFPE), says the first printing houses began to proliferate in the city in 1817. “Early local newspapers, such as Thyphis Pernambucano and Diário de Pernambuco, came into circulation as early as the 1820s,” he says. Unlike São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Recife, the printing heritage in Curitiba, in the state of Paraná, was built around lithographic printing houses. Correa explains that printing houses in the city were originally set up by German professors, who would come to the city to install equipment, train local apprentices, and produce documents.

Marcos da Costa Braga, a professor in the Department of History of Architecture and Design Aesthetics at FAU-USP, says the digital age has created a vaster playing field for typeface designers, including in Brazil. First, because the rules governing the art of typeface design have migrated, unchanged, to computer-aided design. And second, because the use of software for typeface development has enabled new typeface families to be crafted outside the traditional printing industry hubs in Europe. Today, at least six letterpress printing houses remain in operation in São Paulo. At FAU-USP, they are primarily used for educational and artistic purposes.

São Paulo’s printing heritage: Exploratory research on movable type printing and identity (2011–2013) (no. 10/19166-8); Grant Mechanism Regular Research Grant; Principal Investigator Priscila Lena Farias (USP); Investment R$59,127.79.

Scientific article
OLIVEIRA, H. B. e FARIAS, L. P. Memória Gráfica Paulistana: O repertório de tipos da oficina tipográfica de Jorge Seckler entre 1878 e 1884. Anais do 8º CIDI e 8º CONGIC. Sociedade Brasileira de Design da Informação (SBDI). 2017.