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Industry

The decline and study of traditional print

As traditional printers shut up shop and the heavy metal machines of yesteryear are replaced by digital presses, there has been a corresponding boom in groups charting print history and even restoring former presses.

Article picture

Heritage: D. Smith & Sons Ltd, carton makers, 97 Lea Bridge Road, printing carton sheets, 1959. Courtesy of Vestry House Museum, London Borough of Waltham Forest

St Bride Foundation in London has, for years, pioneered the preservation of presses and run workshops and open days in order to keep the skills of letterpress alive. Other centres include Inkspot Press in Brighton, the Letterpress Collective in Bristol, The Print Project in Shipley and the West Yorkshire Print Work Shop in Mirfield. A full list of such courses can be found at British Letter Press who also list many of the types of presses used in the industry over the centuries.

There are also projects currently running on how print has affected the social fabric of society. For instance, the Rendezvous Projects Community Interest Company in Waltham Forest has been awarded £58,200 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for a new project ‘Lightboxes and Lettering; Printing Industry Heritage in East London’. Made possible by money raised by National Lottery players, the project focuses on the pre-digital era of printing in Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest and the experiences of people involved in the industry says the project organisers.

They say: “The project will explore how the printing industry has changed with the arrival of digital technologies, and how newer processes have transformed the everyday lives of print workers. Volunteers will be engaged in oral history interviews with current and former employees, and in digitising archive material collected from existing and private collections. Members of the public will have the opportunity to take part in artist-led workshops, using some of the processes and exploring the archive material uncovered by volunteers. The project will culminate in early 2019 with an exhibition and publication, and a website will document the progress of the project throughout.”

The project will explore how the printing industry has changed with the arrival of digital technologies, and how newer processes have transformed the everyday lives of print workers

The groups says the project will map former businesses, record the experiences of current and former employees, and collect printed matter, images of print workshops and details of technical processes. It will offer skills in oral history interviews, archive research and digital media to volunteers, and will share print processes with members of the public.

Meanwhile The Centre for Printing History and Culture (a joint initiative between Birmingham City University and the University of Birmingham) is promoting the Agency in Regional Print Culture, which connects a network of scholars interested in identity, location, and print.

They say: “We are researching the spaces - geographical, architectural, and textual - in which regional identities were created and articulated by print trade professionals. In so doing, we are exploring the ways that print culture in the hand-press period contributed to the formation and negotiation of regional identity and the particular printed forms in which that occurred: newspapers, periodicals, printers’ letters, print trade autobiography. A further strand of the project is gender, as we hope to uncover the positions and responsibilities available to women in the regional print trade compared with the metropolis.”

The organisation features a lecture next month concerning an aspect of printing history under the title of Accidental Historians on Wednesday, May 9, with researcher Sue May in the Joseph Priestley Building, Birmingham City University. Entitled Images as historical evidence (or not)? the talk will look at how printed images help to reflect and chart social history and also ‘aspects and periods of printing history and culture.’



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