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.
(1). See: Letterpress Printing in Wikipedia.
(2). See: Photolithography in Wikipedia.