ANOTHER BOWNE HOUSE, South Street Seaport

by Kevin Walsh

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. 



Austin January 10, 2014 - 9:44 am

Don’t forget “out of sorts”

vintagejames January 10, 2014 - 11:30 am

Interesting. Had once heard that “Mind your p’s and q’s” came from pubs in the UK where that meant “Mind your pints and quarts,” for some reason. Your explanation makes more sense to me.

Eric Robinson January 11, 2014 - 9:30 pm

I thought “Mind your p’s and q’s.” came from British pubs that sold beer by the Pint or by the Quart. Is this one of those things which no one will ever really know the answer?

Mike in FLA via BKLYN January 12, 2014 - 10:57 am

Perhaps you’re all right! Understanding the p’s & q’s theory, and after throwing back a couple of one or the other, you’d be best to watch your p’s and q’s. This could lead to the devastating “pied” type, (to which the above method could lead to). Furthermore, if you are experiencing “pied type” you will be definitely “out of sorts”.

Mike in FLA via BKLYN January 12, 2014 - 11:18 am

Hey! -Who said “Pied-Eyed” =)

Jim S. January 13, 2014 - 4:05 am

Hate to say it, Kevin, but the original Bowne And Company counting house was probably down on John Street in 1775, where most of their business contacts worked (just up the Street from the slave market.) A few blocks north of there most of the lots were still partly underwater,because the island is narrower there. I worked for the Seaport for many years, first as a volunteer then on staff, berfore they became the downtown extension of Barney’s and Brookstone, and the original master of the shop (who apprenticed in England where, as he put it, you basically started by making paper from a tree you chopped down!) taught me to hand set type and to run hand presses, and we even installed a couple of the machines together, including the first Intertype machine ever made, which castlead slugs from what you typed on the keyboard. predated the Linotype by a few years. I t had the serial number 0001. Only print machine I ever worked that had a real fire on the back! He also taught me some of the basics of calligraphy, which I still use sometimes to this day.
BTW have loved your site for many years, thank you for all the great stuff you have posted!

Mike March 19, 2015 - 11:43 am

The original Bowne & Co. was on Queen Lane (now Pearl Street), between John and what is now Fulton Streets. There is a plaque dedicated to the original site on the Pearl Street Side of 200 Water, around the corner from the painting of the mermaid and fish. The SSSM Bowne & Co. was created in 1975 to commemorate the bicentennial of the company with help of Bowne & Co., Inc. which was acquired by Donnelly printers in 2010.

Thomas May January 13, 2014 - 8:06 pm

My father was a linotype operator at Bowne & Co. from after WWII until he died in 1965. They specialized in financial printing for Wall St. As a child, he occasionally would bring me to the plant for a treat and a walk around lower Manhattan. I still have a lead bar that would be melted down to make type. All has now changed since we live in the digital world.

sale September 25, 2015 - 10:35 pm Reply

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.