A Review of Printing History and Printing-houses in Iran

The demand for information is one of the essential necessities of social life and no one can ignore the importance of the press, particularly newspapers and papers in this regard. One of the key factors in the history of the press and newspapers is the appearance of the press and foundation of the printing-houses. In spite of its historical antecedence, printing-houses flourished during the 19th century in Iran because of the governing situations of the country and also were related to the phenomenon of the journalism as a novel necessity.

The appearance of journalism and printing industry in Iran during the Qajar era, although like any other reform was a up to down movement that served the benefits of the ruling class, had a leading and inspiring role and, especially  in the intricate situations, helped to explicate and to feed the public opinions. Journalism first absorbed the students whom were sent to Europe, because of the intelligence of Abbas Mirza and his competent vizier Mirza Eisa Ghaem Magham Farahani, to get familiar with modern civilization, and find a way to pull out the traditional society of Iran from lagging behind. These students, and above all Mirza Saleh Shirazi, were not dispatched to get familiar with journalism or to learn the printing industry and the main goal of their expedition was militaristic. Mirza Saleh Shirazi in perusing his personal concerns and also the necessity he felt for this profession, learned it. In returning home he entered this route by purchasing a printing machine (1).
 The Persians, in traditional point of view, were familiar with the terms of newspaper and journalism in pre and post-Islam eras and probably they have had the instruments for printing the texts, orders, annals and rule books. The term “ÑæÒäÇãå” (newspaper in Persian) was derived from Pahlavi “ÑæÒäÇ㘔 and poets and Nobel men like Ferdowsi, Onsori, Naser Khosrow, Khaqani, and Nezam Almolk have referred to this term(2).  In Mongolian and Safavid eras too, some efforts were done to practice the techniques of printing and making printing-houses by use of other nations’ experiences and some were successful. Before Mirza Saleh Shirazi begins a clear-cut measure in this field, some Iranians from the Qajar era, through English governed India, was familiar with printing, printing-houses, newspaper and journalism. Mirza Abol Latifkhan Shooshtari in his book “Gift of the World” in 1216L.H. (1801) has a detailed chapter called “Writing book in mould” about journalism in India. Abutalib Mohammad Isfahani too in his book “The Route of Wanting” in 1219L.H. (1804) has many illustrations in this regard. Gaem Magham and Abas Mirza were also familiar with this technique (3). We will briefly explain the history of printing and printing-houses in Iran, considering this point that journalism and printing industry in its formal and distinguished form has begun in Qajar era by sending some students abroad and was due to the measures taken by distinguished figures like Abas Mirza and Ghaem Magham directly and some other like Mirza Saleh Shirazi, Mirza Taghi Khan Amir Kabir, Ali Gholikhan Etezad-o Saltaneh, Mirza Hosseikhan Sepahsalar and Mohammad Hossienkhan Etemad-ol Molk, indirectly.

Printing and Printing-houses in Iran
Printing industry was first invented in its simple form in China during Tang dynasty era (618-917 A.D) and has evolved since then. In this regard the invention of lead types by German Gutenberg in 1448 was of prime importance. Gutenberg gradually completed his printing machine. The printing industry, as the turning point in world’s scientific and cultural history, has played a major role in elevating the quality and quantity of the press since then. The history of printing industry in Iran of the recent centuries is related to the reformations of this industry in European countries and making use of these nations’ achievements. Any way we will consider fully the appearance of printing-houses and its quality in Iran in two separate discussions about printing before and after Qajar era.

Printing and Printing-houses before Qajar era
It can be claimed that the printing machine brought to Iran in Mongolian era during the rule of Gaykhatu (1291–1295) which was used to print a paper money called “Çæ”(Chaw), in all its simplicity was the first printing machine in Iran. It was very simple and worked through clamping and engraving on leather (4).  Some think the term “Ç”(chap: printing) and “ÇÎÇäå” (chap-khaneh: printing-house) in Persian is derived from “Çæ”(chaw) and “ÇæÎÇäå”(chawkhaneh). But the late Dehkhoda considers the Sanskrit terms of “åǁ” (chehap) and “åÇå” (chehapeh) as the roots of “Ç” (chap). By and large, it seems the first Iranian printing-house was established in Safavid era for writing affairs. Ange de Saint Joseph, a Carmelite priest from Toulouse, who entered Persia in 1660 and has written some books about Iran, in a dictionary of Persian words to French, Italian and Latin, he has referred to words like “ÈÇÓãå ˜ÑÏä” (basmeh kardan: a Turkish word for printing), “ÞÇáÈ ÒÏä” (qaleb zadan: casting), “ØÈÚ äãæÏä” (tab' nemoodan: printing), “ãäØÈÚ ÑÏÇä?Ïä”  (montabe' gardanidan: printing), “ÈÇÓãå ÎÇäå” (basmeh-khaneh: printing-house) and    “ÈÇÓãå ?” (basmehchi: printer), which can be a sign of presence of printing-house in Iran. De Saint Joseph writes: “The Carmelite Reverend Padres in Mir Square have established a printing-house of their own in Arabic and Persian in their chapel in Isfahan and have it yet. Armenians had a printing-house in Julfa” as well (5). Since the Carmelite, referred to as the reformed, entered Persia in 1607, for sure the date of printing-house establishment is after that year. Carmelites intended to print the Christian prayers and recitals (6).  Armenians too used printing machine in 1632 in Armenian language types in their chapel and had a printing-house. Thirty years after the displacement of Armenians from Julfa to Isfahan by King Abbas in 1604 (an Armenian called Jacob John in 1640 brought a printing machine from Europe to Persia which was stagnated because of problems like faint color, erasing of the lines after a while, incapability in making proper ink, public interest in manuscript texts especially handwriting the Bible and most important wordlessness of many duplicators. As mentioned earlier, the Armenians had printing-house before Jacob John and books like “The Life of Spiritual Ancestors” was printed (which its types was made by the assistance of Khachatur, the Armenians’ caliph, and a copy of it can be found in Armenian Church) (7). Although this printing-house was not used exclusively by the Christian society of Isfahan and did not enjoy public heed, but is a sign of Persian interest in having printing-house. Chardin’s note confirms this:
 “The Persians have intended to have a printing-house a hundred times by now, they know its benefits and advantages, evaluate the necessity and facility of it, but have not been successful. The premier’s brother, who is a knowledgeable and favored one, asked me in 1667 to bring some European technicians to show the know-how of this technique to Persians. He showed the Arabic and Persian books I have brought to the king and obtained his permissions, but always when it comes to pay money everything is over”(8). 
There are no proofs that show the establishment of any printing-house in Persia afterwards up to Qajar era. As said before, establishment of printing-house in Qajar era was caused by some developments which themselves were the result of encountering with the European colonial governments. Even though there is some controversies on the establishment of the first printing-house and its founder in this period, but this should be considered as the result of the activities of some few knowledgeable modernists who laid the foundation of the rout to establishment of the basis of a new civilization.

Printing and Printing-houses in Qajar era
The first printing-house which its existence is of sure in Qajar era, is one established in Tabriz city by Zein al-Abedeen Tabrizi in 1808 or a year before. Agha Zein al-Abedeen travelled to Russia after the order of Abas Mirza and learned the techniques of printing there. He returned Persia after purchasing a printing machine and established a printing-house. He used lead types and after a while printed a book called “The Letter of Victory”.
The Letter of victory, written by Mirza Abd –ol Ghasem Ghaem Magham, was the first book printed in Persia. It was in Arabic and referred to Perso-Russian wars and contained the happening of that era to the conclusion of the Gulistan Treaty. It is noteworthy that the late Tarbiat in his magazine  called “Education “refer to “Jahadieh” (The Sacred War) as the first book of Persia, written by Mirza Eisa Ghaem Magham(9).  Zinker, a European bibliographer, too in his writings, “Eastern Bibliography”, names an English book called “Some Considerations About Khawjeh Hafiz Shirazi” by August A. Herban, which was printed in Shiraz in 1806. If it is true, this printing-house in Shiraz has been established before Tabriz and Tehran (10).  The next printing-house in Persia is the one established by Mirza Saleh Shirazi. Mirza Saleh after graduating and upon return to Persia brought a printing machine with himself. The intellectual and wit Mirza Saleh, using his inborn talent, entered the court of Ghaem Magham and by his support was sent to abroad. While studying history and geography in London, he learned English, French, and Latin and also industries like glasswork, ink-making and also making types. He got acquainted with printing too after his personal interest. Purchasing a printing machine was due to this personal interest and also his humanitarianism. He learned this technique and got expert in it because he wanted to bring something beneficial for his people other than knowledge. He accepted a great hardship to buy and to bring a lead printing machine to be exposed after his return to Persians (11). Mirza Saleh’s printing-house started working in 1818 a year after Zein al-Abedeen. He was not aware of what Zein al-Abedeen has been doing. Being an expert and interested in this field he started his work in Tabriz. But he was so occupied that was made to appoint one called Mirza Ali to continue the work (12). In 1822 one called Mirza Jafar, who was sent to Russia by Abbas Mirza to learn this technique, brought a printing machine to Tabriz. In the same printing-house a part of Saadi’s Golestan was printed in 1824.  This is the same printing-house that was called the first one in “The Printing-houses Out of Europe”. This is in spite of the fact that two other printing-houses were established before. It can be claimed that Mirza Jafar is the same Engineer Mirza Jafar who studied along with Mirza Saleh in London. If this is true, one can claim that he has been acquainted with printing and helped Mirza Saleh to initiate his printing-house. Thus it can be concluded, what is meant by the first printing-house in Persia in “The Printing-houses Out of Europe” is that of Mirza Saleh (13).
General Seminoy, who did printing works in Odessa, travelling to Persia in 1825 brought a printing machine with himself too. But it is not clear what has been printed by him and how (14).

Printing-houses in Tehran and Other Cities
Till 1824 all the Persian printing-houses were in Tabriz and even the capital of Qajar government lacked this technology. Fathali Shah sent Mirza Zein al-Abedeen to Tehran in 1240 HQ to establish a printing-house there. Mirza Zein al- Abedeen, with the support of Manuchehrkhan Motamed-o Doleh, one of the court noblemen, founded a printing-house and printed many books, often religious. Because of his relations with Manuchehrkhan Motamed-o Doleh, who helped him establishing the printing-house, the books printed there were called Motamedi printings. Zein al-Abedeen trained some people in Tehran and thought them the techniques of printing. One of them was Mirza Bagher who later printed a book called “Abrogation of the Histories”. In1829 Fathali Shah ordered the great lithography of Tabriz to be moved to Tehran with all its workers and machines. Mirza Assadollah was sent to Europe, with the support of Mirza Saleh Shirazi, and returned after learning printing and buying a printing machine in 1240 HQ. This printing-house which was different from the ones using lead types, started operation for the first time in Persia.
Beside Tabriz in which the printing industry started and expanded, Isfahan and Shiraz can be named as the cities contributing in this industry. Foundation of typography in Isfahan goes back to 1828 and printing the book of “The Mission of Hossein” written by Mirza Ebrahim Astarabadi. Lithography started in Isfahan in 1844 and in Shiraz first started in 1829, but no book was printed there but a Quran. Orumieh city saw a printing-house in itself in 1840 by some American Christian missionaries. After Orumieh, cities like Booshehr, Mashhad, Anzali, Rasht, Ardabil, Hamadan, Khoy, Yazd, Gazvin, Kermanshah, Kerman, Garoos, Kashan, Ahwaz, Zanjan and Sari possessed a printing-house respectively (15).
The first printing machine entered Persia were of typography ones, but problems of this kind of printing paved the road for the appearance of lithography. The quality of typography was not so good, with a lot of misspellings and problems like faint colors and erasing the lines after a while. These deficiencies, compared with the high quality calligraphies in Nastaliq (a method of favorite calligraphy in Persia), were more marked and for sure the public valued the manuscript more. On the other hand, a religious sense considering the printing-house as a foreign phenomenon made by infidels intensified these problems. So lithography which had fewer problems came to the core of attention. Sending Mirza Assadollah, who was from Fars province and a friend of Mirza Saleh Shirazi, to Russia to learn lithography, was the outcome of such considerations. As mentioned before Mirza Assadollah brought with himself a great lithography printing-house to Tabriz and put it in working by the assistance of one called Mirza Reza. We also mentioned that Fathali Shah brought this printing-house to Tehran with all its workers and machineries in 1829. “The poetical book of Neshat” written by Mirza Abd-ol Wahab Moatamet-o-Doleh, whose pen name was Neshat, was the the first book printed in Tehran lithography. A man called Abd-ol Ali too brought the instruments of lithography to Tehran and started working. In this new printing-house first   “The History Book of Non-Arab Kings” written by Mirza Abdollah ibn Fazlollah and then the History of The Great Peter were printed. Abd-ol Ali after a while left the printing-house for Mirza Bagher (mentioned before). Lithography was used in most cities mentioned above. The newspapers published after the second half of the 19th century were all in lithography. Although typography first entered Persia, due to certain problems, soon was substituted by lithography. Nasser-udin Shah in his 1873 journey to Europe purchased typography machine in 500 Ottoman Lira and sent it to Persia which was left unused after two years. This printing-house later was repaired by Baron Norman after the order of Mirza Hosseinkhan Sepahsalar to print “Homeland” or “Patri” newspaper. But this newspaper was confiscated after the first copy and the printing-house was once more left unused. Other typography printing-houses were opened in 1878 which was closed some times later. The last typography was established in 1896 which is active yet.

Pictorial Printing
The appearance of pictorial printing in Persia goes back to Mohammad Shah period. The first known book printed with pictures was school book of “Leila and Majnoon” printed in 1843. Four pages of this book were printed with pictures. The pictures were drawn with printing ink and painted by hand as usual in those days. Then “The poetical Book of Fozooli Baghdadi” with twenty pictures and then “The Mourning for Fighters” with eight pictures were printed. Since 1882 which the first copy of "Sharaf" newspaper was published to 1891, some eighty seven number of it had pictures. "Sharafat" newspaper too which was printed since Safar 1896 was pictorial. Since then pictures were widely used in other newspapers. The first Persian who learnt pictorial printing was Agha MirzaAbd-ol Latif, the painter of Isfahan. He was dispatched to Europe by the trustees of the government and learned the pictorial printing there. He was one of the most intelligent of his own and other individuals like Agha Mirza Aboutorab, the noble painter of the Ministry of Printing, learned this technique from him (16).  It should be noted that there is some differences between pictorial lithography and pictorial typography.
Pictorial lithography is similar to the ordinary printing and the only difference refers to the skill of the painter in combination with the printing ink, which makes the ink thicker than usual. But pictorial typography printing is due to making gravure. Just at the same time the pictorial printing came into existence in Persia, in Europe by using nitric acid the text was engraved on wood and using the resulted model printing was done.

Printing industry in its new form, as a process that prepared the ground for the expansion of thoughts and exchange and evolution of minds, entered Persia so late. If we consider the invention of printing machine by Gutenberg in mid 15th century as the turning point of this industry, it entered Persia with a distance of four centuries. But the endeavors in this field in the first confrontations of Persian traditional society with modern world are of prime importance. Clearly purchasing and transferring the lithography and typography machines in their old forms to Persia and the start of using them was accompanied with a lot of hardship and needed an unwavering decision. Paying attention to this important industry as one of the first subjects attracting the dispatched students is a sign of dynamic mind of Persians in understanding the backwardness of their society and the necessity of learning science and new techniques to overcome the existing problems.
Any way the dominating situations in Persia especially political transformation in this era withhold the needed developments to take place in this field and also confiscated the printing techniques and its analogous column (journalism) for its own interests, to be used in favor of ruling interests. But printing has played a decisive role especially in expanding the journalism in Persia of Qajar era, a phenomenon referred to as the forth pillar of the constitution.   

- Arianpour, Yahya, "From Saba to Nima", 1st vol.,5th edition, Tehran, Bina Pub., 1355
- Tavernieh, "Itinerary", translated by Aboutorab Noori, 3rd edition, Tehran, Sanaee Liberary, 1363
- Dehkhoda , Aliakbar, “Dictionary”, Under the supervision of Mohammad Moein & Seyed Jafar Shahidi, Tehran, Tehran University Pub., 1377, The word “Ç”
- Chardin, "Itinerary", translated by Mohammad Abasi, 4th vol., Tehran, Amirkabir Pub., 1349
- Safinia, "The History of Journalism in Persia", Yadegar Magazine, 2nd Year, No. 2
- Solhjo, Jahangir, “The History of Press in Persia and the World", 1st Edition, Tehran , Amirkabir Pub., 1348
 - Golbon, Mohammad, “The Term  ÑæÒäÇãåand The First Newspapers Printed In Persia”, The Historical Reviews Magazine, 5th Year, No. 5,
- Mahboobi Ardakani, Hossein, “The History of the new Civilizational Institutes in Persia”, 1st vol, 1st Edition, The Society of Tehran University Students, 1345
- Mirza Saleh Shirazi, “The Collection Of Itinerary of Mirza Saleh Shirazi” , by Gholam Hossein Mirza Saleh, Tehran, Nashr Tarikh Persia Pub., 1364

1. Arianpour, Yahya, "From Saba to Nima", 1st vol.,p 5, Tehran, Bina Pub., 1355; “The History of the new Civilizational Institutes in Iran”, 1st vol; “Acquaintance With Western Civilization and the pioneers of the Modern Improvement”, p 5
2. “The Term  ÑæÒäÇãåand The First Newspapers Printed In Iran”, pp2-6
3. “The gift of the World”, p188, “Acquaintance of the iranians before Mirza Saleh”, mentioned from the prologue of Itinerary of Mirza Saleh, p14
4. “The history of Vasaf”pp271-75; “The History of Press in Iran and the World", p40
5. “The History of the new Civilizational Institutes in Iran”, 1st vol, p209, mentioned from “Education Magazine”, 3rd  Year, No. 11
6. Dehkhoda , “Dictionary”, The word “Ç”, the History of Printing in Iran
7. Tavernieh, "Itinerary", translated by Aboutorab Noori, 2nd edition, p597
8. Chardin, "Itinerary", translated by Mohammad Abasi, 4th vol., 1st edition, p1336
9. “The History of the new Civilizational Institutes in Iran”, 1st vol., pp 211-13
10. Ibid, p 212
11. “The Itinerary of Mirza Saleh Shirazi”, p 353
12. “The History of the new Civilizational Institutes in Iran”, pp 212-15
13. "From Saba to Nima", 1st vol.,5th edition,p 131
14. Yadegar Magazine, 5th  Year, No. 1&2, p22
15. “The History of the new Civilizational Institutes in Iran”, pp 214-18
16. “Etellaat Newspaper “No.576, 23Jamadi Athani  1300

By: Dr Seyed Abolfazl Razavi
Translated by: Asghar Abutorbi

Source: Ketab-e Mah-e Tarikh va Joghrafia (History and Geography Monthly)

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