May my invention become known throughout the entire world by benefiting mankind in manifold ways through exquisite (printed) goods. May this only ever serve purposes of refinement, but never be abused for purposes of evil. May the Almighty Father grant this! May the hour be blessed in which I invented lithography!
Johann Alois Senefelder, (1771-1834), Inventor of Lithography
Our next stop on our journey up Carlaw Avenue is 201 Carlaw Avenue. This plant was one of the largest employers in Toronto’s printing industry in 1921. By the late twentieth century Rolph-Clark-Stone Limited, lithographers will be one of the largest graphic art firms in Canada.
Cutting machine, Toronto Lithography Co., 1898.
The Rolph-Clark-Stone Limited Building was impressive in 1921 and will continue to be so even in 2016. It is an excellent example of an industrial building from the period of the First World War. On March 06, 2007, the City of Toronto included 201 Carlaw Avenue on its Inventory of Heritage Properties. It is one of only two Carlaw Avenue buildings to be designated a Heritage Property.
But let’s find out about Rolph-Clark-Stone the business, before we explore Rolph-Clark-Stone the Building.
Rolph-Clark-Stone the Business
Those of us who’ve lived in Leslieville a long time remember Carlaw Avenue as a major employer providing blue collar jobs for our neighbours, friends and even ourselves and as an outstanding Canadian graphic design firm.
I was an apprentice bookbinder in a factory just off Carlaw in the 1980s, before I returned to school to study art. The loss of those jobs on Carlaw, Eastern and especially Dunlop’s on Queen, pulled the rug out from many of us financially. In some cases the factories and jobs went overseas or out to the suburbs. In many cases, the parent companies, mostly in the US, just shut down their Leslieville branch plants, gutting the industrial base of the neighbourhood. For many people free trade was costly.
Lithography artists at work, Toronto Lithography Co., 1898. This company became Rolph-Clark-Stone Ltd.
More About Lithography as an Art, Craft and Industrial Process
We take the visual imagery around us for granted as we are bombarded with thousands of illustrations daily. It wasn’t always so. An illustration is a visualization or a depiction made by an artist. Illustrations include:
- drawing (charcoal, graphite pencil, ink, chalk, pastel, etc.)
- painting (oil, watercolour, gouache, acrylics, etc.)
- lithography & chromolithographic techniques
- or other kinds of technique, including computer-generated prints.
The invention of printing is a striking achievement of Buddhists in east Asia. Korea took the lead. The world’s earliest known printed document is a sutra printed on a single sheet of paper in Korea in 750 CE. This is closely followed in Japan by a bold experiment in mass circulation (precisely the area in which printed material has the advantage over manuscript). The earliest dated printed book known is the “Diamond Sutra”, printed in China in 868 CE. (CE means “Common Era” and replaces the old A.D. or “Anno Domino”‘ BCE is “Before the Common Era” and replaces B.C.)
In about 1400, more than six centuries after its invention in the east, the technique of printing from wood blocks was introduced in Europe. As in the east, the images were printed by the simple method of laying a piece of paper on a carved and inked block and then rubbing its back to transfer the ink. Also, as in the east, the main market was holy images for sale to pilgrims.
Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press and independently developed a movable type system in Europe, along with innovations in casting the type based on a matrix and hand mould. (The concept is experimented with in China as early as the 11th century). He also added illustrations to his printed books, usually woodcuts.
Books were still expensive and rare. The Industrial Revolution made books cheap and available to virtually everyone. Since the 19th century books have been printed in a large-scale industrial process. Now with the Digital Revolution, computers make possible small-scale self-publishing that it is even cheaper and more accessible.
It’s hard to appreciate the craft that went into products by a graphic arts firm like Rolph-Clark-Stone Ltd. Lithography could and did produce the exquisite printed goods that its inventor, Senefelder, hoped for.
The lithography department of the Toronto Lithographing Co. in 1898
In 1844 American inventor Richard March Hoe builds the first lithographic rotary printing press, a press in which the type is placed on a revolving cylinder instead of a flatbed. This sped up the printing process considerably. Early advances in lithography made mass reproduction of such colour illustrations possible, although at a high price.
With the development of chromolithography, full colour printed goods became affordable. Chromolithography produces colored prints from lithographic stones. In the 1850s, it was hoped that chromolithography would be a good method of color printing to illustrate books. The process of chromolithography allowed a wide range of colours to be used, from delicate to deep shades. A separate stone was drawn for each color, and as many as 20 stones were used for one print. After the illustration was drawn, each stone was inked in an appropriate color on a press. Then the print paper was passed from stone to stone to pick up the varied colors. The paper had to be aligned exactly on every stone or the resulting print was spoiled.
By the end of the 19th century, photographic processes took the place of all hand lithographic methods, meeting the popular demand for less expensive illustrated books. In 1903 American printer Ira Washington Rubel was instrumental in producing the first lithographic offset press for paper.
The “golden age of illustration” lasted from the 1880s until shortly after World War I. Newspapers, mass market magazines and illustrated books became the dominant media of public consumption. Improvements in printing technology freed illustrators to experiment with color and new rendering techniques. Some illustrators in this time became rich and famous. Calendars with pin-up girls became very popular.
In the 1950s programmed composition increased the speed of the printing process and photo-typesetters replaced earlier methods, making reproduction much, much faster. In the 1970s, computers were integrated into the printing process. The Digital Revolution had begun and firms like Rolph-Clark-Stone Ltd. either adapted quickly or died.
Map by Alexander and Cable, 1903, lithography by Rolph and Clark Ltd., Toronto (Toronto Public Library)
Rolph-Clark-Stone is an interesting company with its own history. In 1878 the Toronto Lithographing Co. began and offered lithography, engraving and electrotyping. They
produced books, maps, posters, etc. In 1909 William Stone took over the Toronto Lithographing Co. and it became Stone Ltd. In 1917 Stone Co. merged with rival Rolph and Clark Ltd. to form Rolph-Clark-Stone Limited.
Rolph and Clark Limited bought land from the City of Toronto in 1912 — land that had been brickyard owned by John Russell and seized by the City of Toronto for non-payment of property taxes. The City used that land between Carlaw and Boston Avenue to provide the basis for a new industrial subdivision in the East End. A year later, O’Keefe Brewers decided not to build a new brewery on land they had purchased on Carlaw Avenue. Rolph and Clark Ltd. bought that land as well. It was Rolph and Clark Ltd. that actually built 201 Carlaw in 1913 before the merger with Stone Company.
A BENEVOLENT FAMILY BUSINESS
Just before World War One and during the Great War, new factories, powered by hydroelectricity from Niagara Falls, sprang up along Carlaw and Eastern Avenue. Thousands moved from rural Ontario into Toronto looking for work while immigrants from Britain poured onto steamers to cross the Atlantic, seeking work in big cities like Toronto.
Working class Shacktowns sprang up just outside city limits as the population of Toronto increased 82 percent between 1901 and 1911. There was a “housing famine” and while the Shacktown east of Greenwood Avenue was one way blue collar workers found homes, another was doubling up in the existing housing clustered around the factories. Overcrowded housing led to serious health and social issues. William Stone and Frank Rolph were strong proponents of building better housing for workers although the Rolph-Clark-Stone Company did not feel the same way about unions. Many similar employers felt that, since they looked after their own, there was simply no need for labour unions on their shop floors — maybe someone else’s but not theirs.
The period just after World War one saw a great change in thinking about what society thought its City government could and should do. People demanded better roads and Ontario’s first system of paved highways was built starting with the Kingston Road. Paved streets even came to the old Leslieville. Riders insisted on better public transportation and the old inefficient (and arrogant) street railway company was taken over and the Toronto Transportation Commission now called the Toronto Transit Commission (T.T.C.) replaced it, improving and extending routes across the City, making it easier for people to get to work.
Rolph-Clark-Stone Ltd. actively promoted better housing for workers. The Toronto Housing Commission (THC), supported by Rolph-Clark-Stone Ltd. and other members of the Canadian Manufacturing Association, put up homes, sold at or about cost to families with low-interest mortgages. The employees of Rolph-Clark-Stone earned good money under a benevolent, albeit paternalistic, management that even made sure workers had decent places to live.
In 1920 the City of Toronto built its own low income housing on four streets that ran eastbound from Coxwell: Stacey, Earl Haig, Currie and Hanson and other streets in the old East End.
People were proud to work for Rolph-Clark-Stone. They produced outstanding high quality graphic arts — everything from labels, boxes, calendars, books, brochures, posters to postcards. And they knew it. Their work produced beautiful illustrations, still collected almost a century later.
They shared the strong camaraderie that distinguished many factories in our area. Rolph-Clark-Stone Ltd. had a reputation as a good place to work, with decent wages and good management. It employed many skilled artists and printers, as well as labourers, and worked at building a sense of family, what would later be called “a corporate culture”. The company sponsored a sports league, Christmas parties, picnics and other social events. They celebrated the birth of each other’s babies, attended weddings and cried at funerals. They worked together and played together. At that time, young boys in their early teens went to work as “printer’s devils” and eventually became apprentice, then journeyman and then master printers. They paid their dues and expected to work and often did work in the same plant for the rest of their working lives.Rolph-Clark-Stone had many men (and a few women) who worked there for decades.
Rolph-Clark-Stone shares were “closely held”, mostly by members of the founding families, and the executive of the firm was dominated by Rolphs and Clarks up until the 1970s. In many ways, Rolph-Clark-Stone was a family firm.
The Civilian, Vol. XIV, No. 3 (February, 1921) Rolph Clarke Stone ad
THE DARK SIDE OF ROLPH-CLARK-STONE LTD.
Most industrial labourers were poor when the Rolph-Clark-Stone Building was built. Most remained poor throughout the 1920s. After the “Great War to End All Workers” ended on November 11, 1918, a series of strikes swept Toronto, including streetcar workers, police, and many others. Most strikes were for improved wages, but men and women also went out on the picket line to fight for better and safer working conditions and to end child labour. Most factories, including Leslieville’s brick making plants, the Consumers’ plant on Eastern, Dunlop Robber on Queen, and those on Carlaw, were dangerous places to work. However the dangers were not understood at the time. For example. the connections between chemicals used in lithography and cancer would not be made for another 80 years.
Smokestacks belching black clouds were considered a sign of process. Carlaw Avenue had its fair share.
If we walked by in 1921 we would hear the incessant clang and whirring of large machinery, including presses, planers and cutters. I know from experience in the industry that in the old days there were many young printers who could hear perfectly and there were many older workers who’d spent a lifetime in the industry. But there were no workers who’d been there a life time who did not have hearing damage. Many were deafened by their jobs.
We would smell solvents that we couldn’t even name as we walk by in 1921. Lacquers, shellac, degreasers, turpentine and other strange, pungent aromas wafted up and down Carlaw.
Lithography was a far from safe process for the workers. Originally lithographers used stones and relied on a toxic mixture of asphaltum, rosin, nitric acid, and mineral spirit solvents. Many lithographic materials are suspected or known carcinogens and neurotoxins. Fumes from the solvents meant that women who worked in plants often found that they could not bear children or they had abnormally high rates of miscarriages. These chemicals were carcinogenic, mutagenic and teratogenic. In other words, cancer, birth defects in offspring, and infertility are known risks of the lithography process. Those who worked at Rolph-Clark-Stone had a greater risk of cancer. They endured chronic, debilitating illnesses including neurological damage, and died prematurely because of their long-term exposure to the chemicals in the lithographic process. No one could have known that his job was killing him, although some may have suspected. No one knew that she couldn’t have a baby because she packed calendars into boxes.
The inks used in the process were made up of pigments suspended either in water or linseed oil, along with binders or preservatives. Linseed oil is not considered hazardous if inhaled or if it touched the skin, but many of the inks contained small amounts of toxic heavy metals, such as lead.
Workers suffered pigment poisoning if they accidentally swallowed pigments while they were eating, drinking or smoking. A lot of workers ate at their machines to speed up production. In the summer the plants were almost impossibly hot. It was easy to take in a little pigment with your coffee or water.
Lead poisoning lead to anemia, damage to nerves, kidneys and the gastrointestinal system. It also caused damage to the reproductive system. But other pigments were dangerous too, notably cobalt (cobalt blue), cadmium (cadmium red) and manganese (manganese blue, manganese purple). Cadmium red, chrome yellow and zinc yellow can cause lung cancer if breathed in. Lamp black and carbon black, popular in the lithography of the day, had impurities that could cause skin cancer.
Lithography used stones (usually limestone and later metal plates) for printing. The crayons used on the stones contained a number of toxic substances. Hydrofluoric acid and phenol were and still are the most dangerous to use. Talcs were often contaminated with asbestos and silica. I could go on, but I’m sure you get the idea. And I haven’t even discussed amputations from the cutters or “guillotines”. Many print shop workers are missing bits of fingers or more. I’ve seen it happen on the shop floor.
A machine to smooth the stones.
In 1993, Merle Spandorfer, Deborah Curtiss and Jack Snyder M.D., published a ground-breaking manual Making Art Safely. They recommended that lithographers need three levels of protection from harmful vapors. Modern lithographic stone process safety measures include:
1) Individual respirators for each worker;
2) A general dilution ventilation system for the whole plant; and
3) Additional local fume extraction at any source of airborne contamination, including at individual machines and work stations.
None of these were available in 1921, though plants did have fans.
The old saying, “hard work never killed anyone” could never be less true than on Carlaw Avenue. Johann Alois Senefelder’s invention did become known throughout the world. Rolph-Clark-Stone Ltd. benefitted Leslieville. But many artists, printers, bookbinders and labourers paid a high price for exquisite graphic arts.
To Be Continued
For more about lithography and safety: