Scottish Typographical Association
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Scottish Typographical Association

 

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The development of effective typographical societies and unions in Scotland dates back to 1836, when the Scottish Typographical Association (STA) was founded. It, and its ancillary chapters in major printing towns and cities such as Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee, Paisley and Edinburgh, served on behalf of the Scottish workforce to police their activities, lobby for better wages and working conditions and build solidarity with other craftspeople. Compositors, printers and members of the allied book trades in Scotland relied upon this network of interrelated associations as a means of information transmission and skills exchange, as a source for supporting job transfers between cities and printing and allied book trade firms, as a community linking with and supporting new personnel from outwith Scotland, and as a conduit for maintaining professional, social and cultural connections with overseas emigrant family, friends and former colleagues.

Scottish Typographical Association branch records exist throughout Scotand documenting details of compositors, printers and machinemen whose services in a network of printing and allied book trade firms who throughout the nineteenth century turned Scotland into a book trade powerhouse in terms of output and importance in the Anglophone world.

The National Library of Scotland, the Mitchell Library and the University of Aberdeen hold extensive records on the Edinburgh and Dundee, Glasgow and Aberdeen branches of the Scottish Typographical Association respectively. Few have made use of this material, the exceptions being Sarah C. Gillespie, who drew on selected material for her 1953 study 'A Hundred Years of Progress: The Record of the Scottish Typographical Association', 1853-1952, and Siân Reynolds in her 1989 study, 'Britannica’s Typesetters: Women Compositors in Edwardian Edinburgh. Much remains to be recovered from these underutilised archives. These records include ledgers and other papers recording membership information of over 6000 members employed in Scotland between 1861 and 1900. These records provide a unique insight into book trade personnel activity in Scotland during this period, and in particular the level and spread of union representation across the book trade during the latter half of the 19th century.

The STA was at the forefront of fierce lobbying for changes in working practices throughout the Victorian period, arguing for better wages, less onerous working hours and practices, and most famously, participating in the Scottish wide strike of 1872 that, when it was defeated, led to a drastic decline in union strength across the sector for the remaining part of the century.