The Beginning of the Printing Press in the Uruguayan Territory

The first printing press, La Real Imprenta de la Estrella del Sur, which operated in the current territory of Uruguay was introduced in 1807 as a result of the English occupation. When the press arrived, a bilingual weekly was printed, La Estrella del Sur or The Southern Star.

1. The Southern Star 1807.jpeg

1. The Southern Star Heading (1807)

The Southern Star appeared weekly on Saturdays and its first issue was on May 23, 1807. It was a large publication 24cm×38cm · 9,5”×15” (half page of Crown format), composed in 4 columns. Although the layout was similar to The Times, the composition in two languages was atypical.

The paper was of good quality, it is possible to see manufacturer’s brand B 1805. According to Isidoro de María (1887), La Real Imprenta de la Estrella del Sur had few boxes of old mobile type, some of them arranged with nails. It is unknown if the letter ‘Ñ’ was brought as part of the typographic collection or if it was cut in situ. The objective of this weekly was to show the incapacity of the Spanish occupation when governing its colonies in comparison with the honest and just English system with its free trade. So much that in addition to being distributed in Montevideo, La Estrella del Sur was sent to Buenos Aires, a situation that alarmed the authorities of that city.

Besides the propagandistic character, the publication dealt with a wide variety of topics: proclamations, mandates, letters, local and international news, stories, poems, and an impressive number of notices and publications.

2. Inside pages of The Souther Star (1807).jpeg

2. Inside pages of the first issue of The Souther Star (1807)

The Southern Star was short-lived, only 7 publications, the last copy was printed on July 4, 1807. On July 11, an Extra was printed announcing the cessation of hostilities and a pact between England and Spain. The printing press was dismantled and taken to Buenos Aires on September 29.

3. Extra (1807).jpg

3. Extra (1807)

Uruguay had to wait 3 years to have a printing press again. The events occurred in Rio de la Plata determined Princess Carlota Joaquina de Borbón, sister of Fernando VII, King of Spain, to send a printing press from Rio de Janeiro to the city of Montevideo. The purpose that inspired this attitude was to annul the revolutionary preaching of the May movement in Buenos Aires. The printing press arrived in September 1810 and was settled in El Cabildo, the public building that was used as the government house during the colonial times of the Viceroyalty of the River Plate. This printing press officially called ‘Imprenta de la ciudad de Montevideo' was popularly known as La Carlota.

Immediately the printing press of 30cmx40cm · 12”x16” was used to publish an important weekly newspaper, ‘La Gazeta de Montevideo’, whose appearance ceased in 1814 at the end of Spanish rule in Rio de la Plata. Las Gazetas were sold at a moderate price to provide reading to all classes in the city. The price of each issue depended on the number of pages, 4 pages cost 1 Real and its value increased 0.25 per page. There was also the possibility of subscribing on a quarterly basis for 60 Reales.

La Carlota was set up in a room on the lower flor of El Cabildo and the typographer in charge of handling the mobile types was José Varela, a Spaniard sent from Rio de Janeiro. On October 8, 1810, the first leaflet of La Gazeta was published, printed in half a sheet on a yellowish paper, common at the time. In addition to expressing gratitude to the princess, it was announced that the purpose of the weekly was to cement public opinion.

On October 13, the first issue of La Gazeta de Montevideo appears. The publications had a size of 10cm×16cm · 4”×6.3” and had printed on the cover the coat of arms of the city of Montevideo with dejected English flags. Fourteen issues were published and their content was dedicated to European wars, official communications and official facts in America.

3. Gazeta de Montevideo (1810).png

4. Gazeta de Montevideo (1810)

In terms of printing, the quantities were high and even surprising, between 600 and 800 copies. The most important Spanish newspapers of that time had 500 copies. It is significant to find the same numbers in a medium of restricted territorial circulation and small population, approximately 10,000 inhabitants.

This factor is even more relevant if one takes into account that the periodicity was altered every time that it was considered to print gazettes with extraordinary news, so the number varied from 4 to 12 monthly publications. It is also interesting to mention that La Gazeta had a high percentage of copies sold, the range varied from 62% to 81%.

La Imprenta de la Caridad began its workings in 1822 and produce until 1855. The context of its creation was based on the vocation of a great socio-economic, educational and above all business enterprise, led by the most progressive men of La Hermandad de la Caridad. This catholic brotherhood was founded in 1775, sponsored and guarded by the River Plate Catholic Church and by the monarchical political authority centered at El Cabido de Montevideo.

This Brotherhood launched the creation of the first series of establecimientos de la caridad or “charitable establishments” around social and public health care, such as: the Hospital de Caridad, created in 1788 as the first civil hospital in Montevideo for poor and homeless, raised with the support of El Cabildo; the House of Foundlings, inaugurated in 1818 as the first home for assistance to helpless children and adolescents; La imprenta de la Caridad, to save expenses, generate monetary resources in turn, and also create job-learning opportunities for poor adolescents.

All this activity involved a Catholic religiosity, but also a complex socio-economic and political fabric, given that the Brotherhood crossed its existence through four convulsive historical periods: the English Invasions, the Artiguista Revolution, the Luso-Brazilian Invasion and the birth of civil wars.

In the year 1817, during the beginning of the Luso-Brazilian domination, Colonel Carlos Federico Lecor promoted the idea of consolidating a lottery to financially support the Hospital de la Caridad. In that endeavor supported by the Cabildo and having the need to print the cards for the lottery, is how the close link between the charity project and the prints arises.


5. Winning numbers of la Lotería de la Caridad (1828).

The printing costs were paid by the hospital and their cost was high, 764 pesos were paid to the printer of El Cabildo or commonly known as La Carlota. In 1822 Joaquín de la Sagra y Periz was given the motion to acquire a printing press for the hospital to minimize the excessive cost involved in paying third parties and, on the other hand, to exploit the benefits of having a typographic workshop in operation. The printing press would move away from political propaganda, usual until then in the workshops, and strengthen the contribution of cultural contents.

On August 9, 1822, a commission was created to buy a printing press. After evaluating accurately, the Commission informed the Brotherhood that Francisco de Paula Perez had two presses, one of US origin, bought from the Chilean caudillo Jose Miguel Carrera and another that was built in Montevideo by the carpenter Carlos Campus and the blacksmith Mariano Basigaluz. The commission suggested buying both and other elements that would guarantee a wider production than lottery tickets. On November 26, 1822, the commission informed the brotherhood that the printing shop had been purchased and the office was set up in the hospital and foundling home.

La Imprenta de la Caridad had the first printing press built on Uruguayan soil. We know that in Mexico (1819) Don Alejandro Valdez made a manuscript translation from French to Spanish of what would be the first Mexican and oldest American printing press manual where it appeared three-dimensional illustrations detailing every part of the structure and element that made up the furniture of a typographical office. The illustrations gave a clear idea of the proportions of each piece of the press, where they were located and what was their function.

This gives us the pattern that existed in circulation such knowledge, arrived from Europe, that would allow the reproduction and technological appropriation in Latin America. Although the press was not commissioned by La Imprenta de la Caridad, Therefore it is remarkable the process of appropriation and development of these tools to the domestic industry.

Four months of preparations led the installation of the complete office, from August to December. They convened the opening to the whole fraternity of the Brotherhood, who witnessed and participated in the first printing, a lottery.

On December 15, the payment of letter forms and a coat of arms to Mr. José Rosendo Ayllón is noted in the accounting records. The Brothers José Rosendo and Valentín Ayllón came from Alto Perú. José was a type founder and Valentín a watchmaker. Considering that the printing press in Peru has a long history that goes back to 1584, It is believed that they could be the first to cut type in the Uruguayan territory.

In 1826, The Regulation of La Imprenta de la Caridad de Montevideo was published. It is clear that the aim of the venture was to turn it into the most important financial input of the Brotherhood.

5. Regulation of La Imprenta de la Caridad de Montevideo (1826)

6. Regulation of La Imprenta de la Caridad de Montevideo (1826)

The printing press had a broad editorial production of more than 170 works, most of which were books, among which is one of the first illustrated books Biblioteca Dramática (1837)

6. El Trovador. Lithography by Juan Manuel Besnes e Irigoyen (1837).png

7. El Trovador by Juan Manuel Besnes e Irigoyen. Lithography (1837)

In 1838, the first Uruguayan catalog was printed. It included all the typeface variety and images that the workshop had. The purpose of this catalog was not to sell type, but to show what was possible to print. It is an invaluable testimony of the wealth of its patrimony in benefit of a great power of composition to achieve the most outstanding values in terms of publishing quality. The publication has a format of 15×21cm · 6”×8.3” and contains 180 pages without pagination.

7. Borders, bigotes and ornaments from the catalog of la Imprenta de La Caridad (1838).png

8. Borders, bigotes and ornaments from the catalog of la Imprenta de La Caridad (1838)

Between the publications, the religious subjects occupy great part of their production, being one of the outstanding ones Elogio del Santísimo Padre Pio Séptimo Pontífice Máximo. The work presents mainly typographical compositions. It has some fillets of a single continuous line on the inside pages and a small guard with geometric figures on the cover. The cover is composed in a transitional Roman typeface, presented in 5 different bodies and three italics in different sizes, the text justification is centered with an open line spacing. The book has a format of 10,4cm×14,8cm · 4”×5,8” and 72 pages.

8. Elogio del Santísimo Padre Pio Séptimo Pontífice Máximo (1826).png

9. Elogio del Santísimo Padre Pio Séptimo Pontífice Máximo (1826)

On December 19, 1828, presenting a 21,5cm×29cm · 8.5”×11.4” format, a statement of political nature was printed linked to the main visual symbol of national identity, It described the design of the first national flag. Drafted by Joaquín Suarez and Antolín Busó, the decree was addressed to all national authorities and the people as a whole. The announcement consist of a single article in which it is stated that the national flag would be white and have nine blue stripes, leaving in the upper left corner a space to incorporate a sun.

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10. Decree drafted by Joaquín Suarez and Antolín Busó (1828)

From the description of printed matter, it will become clear the existence of compositional standards at La Imprenta de la Caridad that derive from the inputs present in their type catalog.

To begin, and fulfilling a functional role, we observe the arrangement of typographic ornaments used as individual decorative elements or disposed linearly forming guards. The typologies present in the catalog, and used in the pieces, include abstract geometric elements crosses, lines and fillets, as well as figurative elements floral, vegetable and hands.

In a first level of reading, and with great weight within the composition, the lustration appears. Fulfilling a descriptive role, and granting an additional value to the piece. The composer, with the use of the image, hierarchizes the page design starting the chapter and introduces us to the theme that will be developed.

10. Fillan, Hijo de Dermidio (1830), Reglamento Interior de la Asamblea General Constituyente y Legislativa del Estadio Oriental del Uruguay (1829), Conversación de Puerta de Tierra (1821).png

11. Fillan, Hijo de Dermidio (1830), Reglamento Interior de la Asamblea General Constituyente y Legislativa del Estado Oriental del Uruguay (1829), Conversación de Puerta de Tierra (1821)

Next, typographies are presented in large bodies. Decorative or Ornamental, these, fulfill the function of opening. Presented in uppercase, they introduce readers to the content and provide information on the subject. These typographies are those of greater body and weight. Following the order of reading appears the Bigote or Mustache as a pause. They organize the contents in the box and provide a rest prior the beginning of the reading. For the text, a small Garalde body types were used.

The image, and according to ancient etymology, is related to the root imitari, to copy. Illustration and ornamentation give additional value to the old book and help define their identity. The printers, in addition to focus on the design of contents, showed interest in the visual aspects of the pages, where the decorative elements began to gain presence in the compositions. Images used to be an expensive input, which not all workshops had access to a wide range of illustrations, this was reflected in the repetition of images, which was a recurring aspect.

For this reason the use of decorative typographies and typographical compositions that expressed the content were developed to convey the different messages that the press produced. Something that happened with greater growth in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A print that had many typefaces was synonymous of wealth. The print became visually powerful.

11. Imprenta Sportman Pando (1962), Tipográfica Moderna (1907).jpg

12. Imprenta Sportman Pando (1962), Tipográfica Moderna (1907)

Another aspect to consider is technology, since it was what allowed such a demonstration. It was printed in this way because it was the first time it could be done. Something similar happens today with screens that display saturated color gradients just because it can be done.