For UK readers and those nearby – There will be a book launch on Thursday 13 November 2014 from 6pm at St Bride’s.
(The following images from my own archive.)
The development of cylinder presses was largely driven by the growth in circulation of newspapers during the early nineteenth century, and primarily The Times of London. The cylinder machine itself was the brainchild of German printer Friedrich Koenig, who patented the first model in 1811. (See here for a previous post about Koenig.)
James Moran in his Printing Presses (Faber & Faber, London, 1973) notes that during the late 1820s this newspaper installed a machine designed by Augstus Applegath that could print at a rate of 4,200 impressions per hour. This machine, a four-feeder, was steam driven, 18ft high by 14ft long, with type travelling ‘to and fro almost the whole length of the machine below four impression cylinders grouped together, and the form was inked on each journey by four sets of composition rollers’ (ibid, 1973, p.129). [Note: the first steam-driven Koenig press was installed at The Times, in secret, in 1814, printing the first issue for the November 29th edition. It is worth noting how secrecy was employed to prevent a walk-out by the pressroom, much in the same way that Murdoch moved the print operations of The Times and its associated News Corp papers to Docklands in 1986-1987.]
My recent visit to Dorrigo, northern NSW, Australia, revealed a wreck of a Wharfedale, another cylinder press, though one more modest than the Applegath model. The photo here (including a rare shot of the author) was taken outside the town’s museum where the remains of the once glorious machine now sit rusting.
Moran notes that the predecessor of this type of press was built in the mid-1850s, with the Wharfedale being developed by Samuel Bremmer, a North Country of England journeyman according to Mason who rose to become printing manager at a London firm, and William Dawson, a joiner and cabinet maker of Otley, Yorkshire, England in the valley of the river Wharfe – hence the name. Look closely at the side panel of the press in Dorrigo and that’s exactly what you still see proudly displayed in raised letters.
Moran writes: ‘[The Wharfedale] Basically…consisted of an impression cylinder mounted on parallel side frames, a bed which, with the ink slab, moved to and fro, carrying the cylinder in gear one revolution, when travelling outwards, and leaving the cylinder stationary on returning, in order to admit the sheet being laid into the grippers for the next impression’ (ibid, 1973, p.135). Over time the principle was taken up by a number of other manufacturers, hence the name Wharfedale became generic.
To see one at work follow this YouTube link to the wonderful site of the National Print Museum, Ireland. One interesting point to note – the paper sheets were fed by women employees after make-ready had been completed, by a man.
‘Founders of the Gazette Herb and Reg Vincent arrived in Dorrigo in 1909 and were thrilled at the country and surrounding district. They settled in the community…on January 8, 1910…the first copies of the Don Dorrigo Gazette were pulled off the old Columbian, a second-hand Double Royal “thoroughly overhauled and guaranteed in good order and condition” by FT Wimble and Co Ltd, Sydney…There have been several owners of the Gazette, starting with the Vincent Brothers sold to George Holland in 1938, Bill Beckhouse in the 1950s and John English in the late 1970s.’
‘The original Columbian printing press was replaced by a Wharfedale hand-fed machine…This was replaced by a modern Heidelberg cylinder press still in use today…A new typesetting machine, the Intertype, was installed at a cost of £3,288 in 1953.’
‘The Wharfedale…was believed to be 114 years old before being replaced by the Heidelberg cylinder press in 1970.’
From the Don Dorrigo Gazette of Thursday, October 17, 1957:
‘The Dorrigo Gazette has installed a modern Autovic automatic printing press…[it] takes the place of a hand-fed platen which the Gazette has donated to the Dorrigo District School.’ [My note: Where is it now?]
Former editors: Reg Vincent; George Holland; Charlie Chappel; Jack Devine; ‘Flip’ Pomroy; Sel Rawson; Jim Ellis; Alan Smith; John English and [current] Michael English.
‘When John English started his apprenticeship in 1961 Alan Smith was foreman; later he took over as editor and when Alan left for a change working with the Bellingen Shire Council, John took over as editor…’
PART TWO: [If you missed Part One click here]
We arrived about 10am to find Michael and his partner Jade and their 19 month old son James waiting outside on a grass strip that separates the building housing the newspaper from a garage next door. Their car was full of that week’s edition waiting to be distributed. The business fronting Hickory Street is now occupied by a Trust promoting an endeavour to set up a new medical centre in town through money left by a past resident – the entrance to the newspaper is along the side and leads directly into the factory or ‘print room’.
For me walking into this building was like going back to the late 1980s and early 1990s when I ran my own letterpress workshop in Bromley, UK. It was not much bigger, about the size of a double garage, yet housed the Heidelberg cylinder, a Heidelberg platen, two Intertypes (one not working), and a composing bench, formes, a small proofing press and guillotine. In the middle of the room a pot belly stove for those cold winter mornings, though as Jade told me the heat from the Intertype’s lead pot was usually sufficient: it was the hot summer months that things became unpleasant inside, the tin roof focusing the sun’s heat even more.
There used to be several people who worked at the paper, assisting with the printing or typesetting but Michael does everything now, his father John having passed away. Everything that is apart from hand-setting the headlines which are done by Jade, who also folds the sheets each week. ‘I’m pretty quick at it,’ she says.
Though he is not a trained journalist Michael does a wonderful job, some of the copy being supplied or himself sourcing it from the internet (such as police reports). He has little time to service the machinery between editions and is having increasing difficulty, he told me, finding suitable supplies of newsprint and ink.
That’s when I realised just how devoted Michael and Jade are to keeping this enterprise continuing week in and week out – not just so that printing enthusiasts like myself can come and swoon over the machinery and raise hallelujahs that letterpress is still surviving. This is their livelihood. During our time the local estate agent dropped in to ask about next week’s ad, while Michael said that many of his regular advertisers know this paper is read from cover to cover each week, unlike its local competitior down the mountain.
So because it is their livelihood I ask that if any of this blog’s readers out there know of spare parts for the Heidelberg Cylinder or sources of ink or someone who can turn around recovering rollers quickly do make contact with Michael and Jade at the Don Dorrigo Gazette. Their email is: firstname.lastname@example.org
And think about taking out an annual subscription! At A$1 a week it’s the best investment you can make in letterpress.
How long will commercial letterpress continue? Until it becomes too expensive to source spare parts or ink or, more likely, until the craft skills are no longer passed from generation to generation.
PART ONE: In the small township of Dorrigo (pop. 1100) high in the mountains of northern NSW commercial letterpress is, at present, alive and well. The Don Dorrigo Gazette is the last Australian newspaper (the Don Dorrigo Gazette and Guy Fawkes Advocate to give the full title) printed letterpress, and printed letterpress not as a hobby but as a business enterprise.
Now in its 104th year the newspaper is valued by the community it serves, for it acts as the heart of the community, a true community newspaper in every sense. One of the house-ads states: ‘Your Printer Is Part Of Your Community’. So much part of this community that 800 copies are printed each week, the eight-page edition hand-folded before being distributed both locally and afar and sold for a dollar; so much so that the rival newspaper of the big town of Bellingen (pop 2600) down the mountain is mostly shunned by the Dorrigo folk.
I first wrote about the Don Dorrigo Gazette two years ago (click here) and it has taken me that long to make the journey – about five hours from where we live in far north NSW, down the Pacific Highway, through the seaside town of Coffs Harbour before turning inland. So when we were serching around for a week’s break and my wife mentioned Dorrigo (there are wonderful rainforest walks and waterfalls to see) I didn’t hesitate.
I didn’t know what I would find, though I think in my mind I had expectations of a much larger building, perhaps with a frontage that serves as reception and ‘newsroom’. After all, in my earlier years working as a journalist all the local newspapers I worked on in England had some sort of entrance, be it modest or grand. Not so the Don Dorrigo Gazette. (Though reading through the centenary issue of the paper, published on 20 January 2010 I find that until the late 1980s there was indeed a frontage, the ‘factory’ being built on in the late 1970s.)
We had arranged to meet Michael English (left), owner, editor, advertising manager, typesetter, printer and jack-of-all-trades, on Tuesday. He told my wife on the phone that he would be in early, around 5am, to finish off that week’s edition. The night before I scanned through the previous week’s edition: the front page ‘splash’ being Ancient History Display Comes To Dorrigo while Museum Musings on the back page (page 8, single page size 29cm x 44cm) contained the information that: ‘Our museum houses the complete set of the Don Dorrigo Gazette from 1910 to the present as well as the old Wharfedale letterpress printing press used to print the newspaper until it was replaced with the current Heidelberg cylinder press’.
TO BE CONTINUED …
Written by Virginia Woolf in the essay Craftsmanship (1937). She is writing of how words convey so many fleeting images that it is difficult to disassociate from the living author. She continues: ‘Only after the writer is dead do his words to some extent become disinfected, purified of the accidents of the living body’. It is a fine essay and much deserving to be read entire. My copy comes from The Death of the Moth and Other Essays (Penguin, 1961), though the original edition was published in 1942 (Hogarth Press).
As much as I admire Woolf as a writer it is her reference to the typewriter that got me thinking. Got me thinking just as I chanced across a book in a charity shop on Shorthand and Typewriting (International Correspondence Schools, London, n.d) from which the accompanying illustrations are taken. It, too, is a good read (in parts). For instance there is vital information on Establishing a Copying Office: ‘Many typists find it profitable to conduct a copying office. Even in the smallest towns there is a great deal of typewriting work to be obtained from lawyers, clerks of courts, architects, contractors, merchants, doctors, authors, ministers, politicians, and others, whose patronage may be secured by soliciting their orders through the medium of a perfectly typed letter and price list. It is often possible to make arrangements with the owner of an office whereby the typist can have a desk in the office in exchange for certain services as a shorthand-typist. In this way a connection may be worked up without much expense.’ Sound advice.
And in the business section this: ‘A married woman usually takes her husband’s Christian name, as Mrs William Dawson, unless the husband is the eldest son of the family, in which case she takes precedence and is addressed as Mrs Dawson’.
Got me thinking too about the history of the typewriter, an instrument that has played such an important role in the development of the industrial world. Among all my books I found scant mention. There must be a History somewhere, but I don’t have it and I am not so lazy as to do a web search. I much prefer to stumble across books in the bookstore, secondhand bookseller or, as with Shorthand and Typewriting, the charity shop. (See here for my post on the demise of the secondhand bookshop.)
However, not surprisingly Typewriter Art (I have mentioned this before and you can go to the post here) did gloss on the antecedents. ‘An American,’ it states, ‘Christoper Lathan Sholes, is widely held to be the inventor of the first practical typewriter. His machine, perfected in the early 1870s, was bought by E Remington & Sons, gunsmiths of Ilion, New York, and put on the market in 1874.’ It goes on to note that the introduction of the typewriter ‘… has transformed business and created the largest female workforce in history, the monstrous regiment of typewriters.’ And while that ‘monstrous regiment’ may have passed into history what are computers but the modern equivalent, the keyboard the same, the drudgery not so different for many.
In the world of typography Monotype didn’t miss a trick and produced matrices in both the conventional and the IBM format as shown here.
People still remain fascinated by Gill. WordPress stats reveal the posts I have written about him are the most frequently visited. As many of you know I abhor the man Eric Gill after years spent in shameful admiration of his letter carving. Were EG alive today he would face prosecution for, among other offences, child sexual abuse and incest.
That aside, recently I had an email from Louis-Jack Horton-Stephens who is making a film about two Gills – one typographers have heard, the other a guy by the name of Jack who climbed the stones his namesake carved.
Louis-Jack writes: ‘The film is a visual essay entitled ‘Gill & Gill‘ that explores humanity’s relationship with stone by juxtaposing two masters of their craft: one of rock climbing, the other of letter cutting. The film looks at the way these two very different practices, united by a common material, share basic principles such as: creativity, problem solving, dedication, muscle memory and balance. Through this unusual comparison I believe that we can come to better understand the artistry in both crafts, and in so doing reflect on humanity’s relationship with the material world.’
Louis-Jack is seeking funds to make and complete his film. If you are interested in knowing more please follow this link