The First Printing Press in New Mexico

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El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro National Historic Trail, Santa Fe National Historic Trail

A wooden printing press in front of shop front.


The first known one-pull Common press made by Adam Ramage, now at Juniata College, Huntingdon, Pennsylvania. This undated photo was used by Phillip Gaskell in his census of wooden presses published in the Journal of the Printing Historical Society in 1970.
(Trinity College Library, Cambridge University), from the American Printing History Association, printinghistory.org
From moveable hand-carved woodblocks in Dunhuang, China, during the Tang Dynasty of 618-906 to adjustable type developed by Johannes Gutenberg in Mainz, Germany, around 1450, print has played a vital role in the transfer of knowledge and ideas, communication, and the arts.

The first printing press in North America was established in present-day Mexico City in 1539 by publisher Juan Cromberger. It was not until a century later in 1638 that the first printing press in the British colonies arrived in Massachusetts by boat from England. While the popularity of print grew, there were no printing presses west of St. Louis, Missouri, into the early 1800s.

The First Printing Press in New Mexico​


It was not until July of 1834, 13 years after the establishment of the Santa Fe Trail with the beginning of legal international trade with Mexico, that the first printing press arrived in present-day New Mexico. Trader Josiah Gregg brought the wood and iron Ramage Press from St. Louis to Santa Fe by way of the Trail. The press was likely constructed in Philadelphia at the shop of Adam Ramage, a native of Scotland, whose wood-frame screw press was among the most popular presses at the time. The Ramage Press remained the only printing press in New Mexico for over a decade.

Within a year of its arrival, Padre Antonio José Martínez, an influential priest and educator, acquired the Ramage Press and brought it to Taos where he printed textbooks for his school, in addition to several political and religious texts. He likely printed the first book in New Mexico in 1834, a Spanish spelling book called Cuaderno de Ortografia, thus establishing a long tradition of important texts published in northern New Mexico that continues to this day.

Padre Martínez loaned the press to the Mexican government in the 1840s which in turn published two newspapers in Santa Fe, which were likely printed in the Palace of the Governors. The press was also used to print the first Laws of the Territory of New Mexico.

The Ramage Press is believed to have met its final fate when William Dawson published information in his Cimarron newspaper that enraged outlaw Clay Allison during the Colfax County War of the 1870s and 1880s. Following the death of Padre Martínez, the press had been passed along to Dawson who published The Cimarron News and Press for a few years until Allison and a cohort allegedly raided the northeast New Mexico printing office and threw the press and type into the Cimarron River. Tales of finding type in the river were reported into the 20th Century.

The Palace Press​


Although the original Ramage Press met an untimely end, today within the New Museum History Museum located within the Palace of the Governors is the Print Shop and Bindery, known as the Palace Press. The Palace Press is both an active print shop and a museum dedicated to the history of the state's nineteenth- and twentieth-century printing traditions. Established in 1972 within the 400-plus year-old building, the Palace Press today contains collections of working presses, in addition to collections of type, engravings, and a library focusing on book arts. While the Palace Press is currently closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, you can peruse their online exhibit here!

Sources:
“Adam Ramage and his One-pull Common Press.” American Printing History Association, April 27, 2017. Accessed: October 10, 2020. <https://printinghistory.org/ramage-one-pull-hand-press/>

Cline, Lynn. Literary Pilgrims: The Santa Fe and Taos Writers’ Colonies 1917-1950. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2007.

Dary, David. Red Blood and Black Ink: Journalism in the Old West. Lawrence, University Press of Kansas, 1999.

“History of Printing Timeline.” American Printing History Association. Date accessed: October 10, 2020.

“Palace Press: Celebrating the Art of Print at the New Mexico History Museum.” New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs. Date accessed: October 10, 2020. <http://www.newmexicoculture.org/museums/history-museum/palace-press>

“The Palace Print Shop and Bindery.” Palace of the Governors. Date accessed: October 10, 2020. <http://www.palaceofthegovernors.org/PrintShop/hmpg.html>

“The Press of Padre Antonio José Martínez.” Lasting Impressions: The Private Presses of New Mexico, 2005. Date accessed: October 10, 2020.