Bowne & Co. Stationers at 211 Water Street is a working job print shop as well as a department of the South Street Seaport Museum. It was one of the first preservation projects undertaken by the Museum in 1975.
Two hundred years before, a dry goods store called Bowne & Company had opened, and it later focused on printing, especially financial documents like prospectuses and merger proxies. One of its customers was Lehman Brothers, the investment bank that collapsed in 2008. Today, Bowne Printers still works in handset type, as was done 200 years ago. The Bowne family has far flung holdings in the NHYC area; the John Bowne House, built in 1661, still stands in Flushing, Queens. Other Bownes settled in City Island, a spit of land in Eastchester Bay, and there, Bowne Street recollects their presence.
The museum says the original shop’s inventory was itemized in a city directory in 1829 as gilt-edge letter paper, straw paper, tissue paper, copying paper, drawing paper, blank books, bill books, cargo books, bankbooks and seamen’s journals.
Print shops of this type originated common phrases like “uppercase” and “lowercase” as the letters were once kept in 2 separate cases. “Mind your p’s and q’s” came about because the two lowercase letters are mirror images of the other.