Hot Off The Presses: Printing History At San Agustin Antíguo

Extra, extra! Read all about it! Today, we have a piece of news that is not so hot off the presses. To be exact this story is over 50 years old: The printing pressed used by the Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board from the 1960s until 1990s is a replica! The Board’s shop built the replica press in 1966 for their living-history museum San Agustin Antíguo.

  • A black and white photograph of a man wearing a colonial costume preparing a printing press.
  • A blurry black and white photograph of a man in colonial costume pealing a paper off of a printing press.
  • A black and white photograph of a man wearing a colonial costume working a printing press.
  • A black and white photograph of a man wearing a colonial costume operating a printing press.
  • A black and white photograph of a man in colonial costume picking up a piece of paper from a printing press.

Starting in 1968, the press began operating in a “board and batten” building. The structure represented an 18th century print shop owned by William Wells. Wells was an English printer and publisher from Charleston, South Carolina – who resided in St. Augustine between 1782 and 1783. Here, he and his brother John Wells printed the city’s as well as Florida’s first newspaper the East Florida Gazette. They also published two books: Nature and Principles of Public Credit by Samuel Gale and Case of the Inhabitants of East Florida by John Wells. After the Revolutionary War, the two left Florida for the nearby British port of Nassau, where they established the Bahama Gazette.

A replica of an East Florida Gazette page on display in the Wells Print Shop, March 1969. (UFDC)

While the original location remains unknown, the Board reconstructed the print shop at 27 Cuna Street. The press served not only for demonstration purposes. It also helped make reproductions of antique maps, leaflets, and even grocery bags used at the Benet Store. Their shop’s furnishings included the printing press, a bookbinding press, an accountant’s desk, and a number of old books. The press ran alongside other colonial crafts, such as blacksmithing, silversmithing, weaving, and candle-dipping to only name a few.

A color photograph of a printing press in a wood building.

Today, the Wells Print Shop is now a gift shop. However, you can still see the printing press at its latest home in the Colonial Quarter on St. George Street.

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