I WAS working on an Intertype at the Walthamstow Guardian when I managed to get a ‘Grass’ on the Sunday Telegraph (this meant working the Saturday as a casual operator) through a fellow operator who put in a word, knowhatimean?
It was a real closed society when I started, no-one told new people anything and bearing in mind that it was piecework and a docket had to be filled out for every slug of type set and there were three separate type of charges this meant you were really in the dark.
Eventually one of the older regular operators took pity on me and showed me how to charge my work, anyway that is what I thought until I found he was copying what I was charging and also charging it himself!
Anyway, I persevered not knowing if I would be called back the next Saturday until last knockings Saturday night.
Hardly any of the regulars spoke to us lower forms of life but I needed the money so I kept my head down until out of the blue I was asked if I was interested in a ‘spike’ on the Daily Telegraph night shift (called the Continunity).
As this trebled my wages from the Walthamstow Guardian I didn’t say no. When I told me wife she said that I shouldn’t take that amount of money each week as it was too much!
When I started I wasn’t allowed to write a piece docket until they felt I was fast enough (and could earn enough) for their pooled piece work. Then they had a Chapel meeting (without me) to decide if they wanted me in.
Fortunately they voted me in and I was there for the next 15 years.
When I started I made the mistake of putting up my own ingot and got jumped on by the local Natsopa bloke whose sole job it was to do that.
I also learned that the liners mustn’t be changed by the operators, although we were allowed to fix the disser stops and splashes.
Most of the machines were Linotype 48s with later Intertypes with Mohr saws for the ads in the ‘Monkey House’ (a small room attached to the Linotype room).
The Chapel ruled the whole area and the Printers kept their heads down, this encouraged the characters of the department (mostly compositors as we were too busy writing our dockets earning money). There were untold ‘trots’ (I think wind-up would be a contempory analagy)
A good one was a reel of toy gun ‘caps’ strapped round the main drive cog so when a line is sent away a machine gun like effect took place, this almost stopped the operator writing a charge, but in the end we developed a charge specially for this event!
The Father of the Chapel was the King of the whole place and to be truthful he didn’t do a lot of work, but he did the negotiating so he was given that privilege. He approved hiring and firing and untold numbers of Chapel Meetings.
I can honestly say that I enjoyed every night I went to work and looking back how privileged we were to be in that position for such a long time. Eventually it all went t*ts up, but these things happen, it certainly gave me a good living for a long period of time and was the best place I have ever ‘worked.’
The biggest event to occur in a generation or more was the auction of the Melbourne Museum of Printing at the end of November.
While Australia has a great number of printing museums scattered around the country, there has only really been one that could lay claim to being a national printing museum: the Melbourne Museum of Printing. This museum was the collection personally created by Michael Isaacson in the hope that there would be a significant and lasting collection of our printing history available.
I had first met Isaacson when I visited his warehouse in the early Eighties. Someone once commented to me that he was an omnivorous collector—a hoarder, even—who, through his all-encompassing collecting, had prevented others from getting equipment, especially individuals who wanted to set up letterpress printeries.
Quite the opposite, I believe. For Isaacsen originally set himself up as a vendor of letterpress machinery and equipment.
From what I have been told—I was never close or in touch with Isaacsen though I visited and was given the Grand Tour on several occasions—his family owned a property in the country outside of Melbourne.
He discovered the Adana when young and his interest over the years developed into what eventually became the Melbourne Museum of Printing.
This was at a time when people couldn’t get rid of printing machinery and equipment fast enough. Often it was sold for scrap if only to prevent someone from setting up in competition knocking out business cards and letterheads. I remember well one printery which started off as a private press and which had smashed up their Albion for scrap, keeping only the base to use as a stone.
This was the general climate at the time. The dissolution of the New South Wales Government Printing Office in 1989 was part of a wave of closures of these massive and historic printeries throughout Australia and New Zealand.
Another fire sale of Australian printing history. Such printeries had histories which went back to the early years of the colonies to before we became Australia and often contained historic machinery and equipment going back to these early times.
I believe that Isaacsen’s massive and historically important collection of Monotype mats were from the collection of the New South Wales Government Printer. And, no doubt, much else of what was in the collection came from similar sources.
Photo: Ray Belt instructs Peter Plowman on the technical aspects of running the Heidelberg Cylinder.
Our trip to see the “Petersburg Times Print Museum” in the South Australian country town of Peterborough was a huge success.
Why was it called the “Petersburg Times?” The paper was started in the nineteenth century at a time when the town was known as Petersburg. The town was a victim of anti-German sentiment during the First World War and was re-named to Peterborough.
The print shop operated continuously for more than 100 years and along with the machinery and hot metal type are a huge collection of ‘job dockets’ – a pristine record of everything printed for many decades dating from the 1920s onwards.
Front page of the Times during the 1920s.
Ray Belt (Printer), Rod Parham (Comp), Peter Plowman (Printer), Jack Flack (Planner) and Helen Flack traveled to Peterborough on 27 September to link up with Judy Evans, Secretary of the Print Museum History Group and its wonderful members.
Photo: Ray Belt, Peter Plowman, Helen Flack and Judy Evans.
Photo: The Museum has a Wharfedale printing press pictured above. The first Wharfedale was built in England in 1856.
The Print Shop is virtually in the same condition as it was left in 2001 when the owner walked out the door for the last time.
There is a Heidelberg Cylinder and Platen, a Wharfedale Press, Intertype Model C (four magazine) and a fantastic range of old metal handset type and wooden type.
Above: An Intertype Hot Metal typesetter. The Intertype was the British version of the American Linotype.
Photo: The wood fired hot metal furnace which is situated at the rear of the print shop.
One panel of a folder for a tea merchant. This is an amazingly creative piece of work, with letters formed from “printers flowers” and border elements, and the letters made structural parts of a scene constructed in Oriental style metal type elements:
Combination Chinese Border Series 91, Patented January 18, 1881 by MacKellar, Smiths & Jordan, designed and cut by William W. Jackson.
Letterpress “type pictures”—scenes constructed from metal type elements—became particularly common during the 1870s and 1880s, especially with the popularity of Oriental, Egyptian, Assyrian, Moorish, Chinese and Japanese motif type elements.
(During that era, lithographers also produced Oriental, etc. themed pieces, but I am here focusing on work done by typesetters/letterpress printers.)
As with all “creative” arrangements of type, the quality varied. Some typesetters created lively and interesting scenes, while less talented workers seemed to have thrown together elements rather randomly.
There is a lot of cringingly poor work out there to be found.
Trade card. This printer, Harding, put together a little scene unusual in that five colors were used.
Most of the metal type elements are from Combination Chinese Border Series 88, Patented September 30, 1879 by MacKellar, Smiths & Jordan, designed and cut by William W. Jackson.
lllustrations from Everard Digby’s De Arte Natandi (The Art of Swimming) published in 1587, considered the first English treatise on the practice.
Divided into two parts, the first is largely theoretical (Digby wrote in Latin, though it would be translated into English by Christopher Middleton eight years later).
The second part is concerned with practical demonstration borne out in a series of 40 beautiful woodcuts, all composed from five landscape blocks into which swimmers in various positions have been placed.
The work was hugely influential, not just providing a practical guide to staying afloat and different strokes but also in its attention to issues of safety. As the Wellcome Library blog notes: “The work is alive to the dangers of swimming outdoors:
Digby makes careful note of the safest methods of entering rivers, warning against jumping in feet first (particularly if the water has a muddy bottom to which your feet would stick) and advocating a slow and patient entry.
Swimmers are also advised to have a companion with them, to help if they get into difficulties. Digby also advises on the different kinds of water that can be swum in, advising against swimming in murky ponds (in which animals may have been washed).”
Born in 1550, Digby was an academic theologian at Cambridge University, though in 1587, the same year as his swimming treatise was published, he was expelled from his college of St John’s partly due to his habit of blowing a horn and shouting around the College grounds.