Although printing with moveable type flourished in Europe since the middle of the 15th century, the first press did not arrive in Costa Rica until 1830.
The device, now known as a Franklin press, came from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the city where Benjamin Franklin founded his newspaper more than a century earlier.
The work that came out of this hand press is being featured at the Biblioteca Nacional, the headquarters of the Sistema Nacional de Bibliotecas.
An historical summary by the Biblioteca Nacional said that the press originally was designed to print school books. The fact that the press arrived so late to Costa Rica does not mean that the country’s elite consisted of illiterates. México City got its first printing press in 1539. So Costa Ricans had access to plenty of printed material that came from other Latin American presses and, of course, from Spain. The reason for the delay probably was economic because of the small population that lived in the country at the time.
In general, colonial officials were leery of printing and tried to keep close control over the machinery and the printers. After all, printing was the Internet of its day. The first presses in Latin America produced official documents.
In Costa Rica some 17 years would pass before the first newspaper edition came from the press. That was Sept. 30, 1847, and printers Nicolás Gallegos and Bruno Carranza were quick to say that the publication was the result of an initiative by then-president José María Castro. The name of the print shop was Imprenta La Paz., so the paper was called La Paz y el Progreso. There was a strong desire for progress even then.
There is an inconsistency between what the Biblioteca Nacional says and the date of Nov. 30, 1847, on the first edition.
There is a certain consistency between the first newspaper and the newspapers of today. A concern was voiced about trash in the city. There was a real estate ad. There was international, Latin American and maritime news and a list of correspondents for the paper all over the country and in southern Nicaragua.
Someone called Floram had penned a pretty terrible poem in which the moon was asked to pour its languid rays over the sleeping ground.
Editors may have published the poem because they delayed publication of the six-page issue until late morning in anticipation of the arrive of more news from the United States, but the mail did not come, the paper said.
Readers can see for themselves because the issues of the newspaper are among the documents that the Sistema Nacional de Bibliotecas has on itsWeb site.
The digital library has 96,000 Costa Rican documents, the Sistema said in a news release. The library system was announcing the Día del Libro y los Derechos de Autor. The system also keeps track of Costa Rican copyrights, hence the interest in the rights of authors.
Other historical documents include material from the 1835 civil war, the 1847 constitution, various laws and a report on the best way to build pipelines to bring water to the center of the capital. Also there is the first book published in Costa Rica by Rafael Francisco Osejo for students at the Casa de Enseñanza Santo Tomás.
Those interested also can see the actual documents by visiting the national library in San José. It is to the north of Parque Nacional on Avenida 3. They will have to walk two block to see the printing press, which now is in the Museo Nacional.
From time to time, the Biblioteca Nacional sets up displays at various exhibitions and fairs. The number of different newspaper titles is surprising, considering the slow start. There even were a handful of English-language newspapers centered on the province of Limón.