The precise and highly skilled business

of printing and binding Bibles.

Books in general are designed to be read once, twice, perhaps a few times. Dictionaries may be referred to quite often. A Bible on the other hand is designed for daily use... for a lifetime.

A Bible, with approximately 1,200 pages, must be as light as a normal book of perhaps 500 pages to ensure it becomes a  constant companion. Normal books of this length would be in two volumes.

The spine must survive being opened at any one of its pages, every day, for a lifetime, without cracking.

It must survive a moisture laden climate and direct tropical sunlight.

The paper must be resistant to white ants. ‘Serampore Paper’, a paper formula that was resistant to white ants was patiently developed by the Serampore missionaries over a period of 15 years. It brought their Paper Mill much prosperity. Paper from Titaghur, just over the river from Serampore, was, I believe, the successor to the Serampore Paper Mill. The Titaghur Paper Mill supplied Baptist Mission Press with its paper.

The Indian paper industry has since been swamped by foreign imports and no longer exists.

‘India’ or ‘Bible’ paper is used for Bibles or parts of Bibles. It is made from bleached chemical wood pulps, often with the addition of linen, rag, flax, or cotton fibres and is specially formulated to produce very thin, tough, and opaque white paper. A pack one inch high contains 1,100 sheets. It is heavily loaded with titanium oxide, or other high grade pigments, to improve opacity. Other important characteristics are its printability, strength, endurance and good folding characteristics.

Most people are familiar with the kind of paper used in copiers. Copier paper is 100gsm (grams per square meter). ‘Bible’ paper is 40gsm, or less.

Letterpress printing involves individual relief metal characters being inked. The ink is then transferred to the paper by the skill of the machine operator. BMP machine operators were trained to let the type just ‘kiss the paper’ (as my uncle would say). That gentle transfer of ink has to leave no indentation in the paper yet leave a crisp, solid black image. A highly specialised skill, especially on such incredibly thin paper.

The letterpress process BMP used is called ‘hot metal’ printing. Each character was individually cast in hot metal into a mould, used once, and then melted down and the metal later re-used. This had two benefits; the first was to avoid the old time-consuming and expensive ‘cold metal’ process of breaking down the printing forms into individual pieces of metal (upper and lower case characters, punctuation, leading, quoins etc.) and placing the individual pieces of type back in the case, ready for re-use; the second was that it ensured the sharpest possible printed image as each piece of type was effectively brand new.

The printing and binding skills needed to produce a Bible are way beyond those needed for everyday printing, either in India, or the UK, and BMP had gradually developed these sophisticated printing skills since 1818.

Baptist Mission Press had 3 British managers and 300 workers. The managers were all missionaries with the Baptist Missionary Society and were paid the same as any other missionaries.

Note:

(1). See: Letterpress Printing in Wikipedia.

(2). See: Photolithography in Wikipedia.

The Gospel of St. Mark, Chapter 1,

Hindi New Testament.

Printed letterpress (1) by Baptist Mission Press, 1955.

Letterpress is a printing process that goes back to

Gutenburg’s Bible and the invention of printing.

The Gospel of St. Mark, Chapter 1.

A Holy Bible probably printed photolitho (2),

and purchased in 2010.

Baptist Mission Press says farewell to Superintendent Bernard Ellis in 1966.

The Assistant Superintendent and Machine Room Manager, with their wives, are on the right.

Representatives from the BMS are on the left.

The gentlemen sitting to the left of the two Englishman was Mr. Bannerjee, the Works Manager.

The door to the left was the entrance to the Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent’s offices.

The door in the centre was the entrance to the Confidential Department

where university examination papers were printed for universities all over India.

The staircase on the right leads up to the Composing Department on the first floor

where type was hand set by compositors in the Indian languages.

It was also where type was imposed and clamped in formes ready for the printing machines.

The Press closed completely within 6 years.

The site is now a shopping mall.

Baptist Mission Press employees say farewell to Superintendent Rev. J. W. Thomas in 1901.

The two windows were later turned into doors and a verandah added.

The room behind was the sitting room of our flat. The columns at left belong to the portico,

the main entrance to the building, which contained four flats for the families of the European managers.

The wooden shutters were painted green and were designed to keep out direct sunlight.

The walls were 18 inches thick to keep out the heat.

The floors were of stone for coolness and were four feet off the ground to allow for flooding in the monsoon.

There was an open crawl space all the way under the house.

Rooms were about 50% bigger than in UK houses and ceilings 50% higher.

Windows were closed during the day to keep the heat out.

The flat roof, which had a balustrade all round, was a great place to fly kites.