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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Recommended: Photos of printers using antique equipment in Guatemala, Central America

I can’t say I recommend this blog about the travels of Chris Vervaeke, a Mississauga, Ontario man with a Bolivian knitted toy penguin that he uses as a gimmicky storytelling device. 

But I genuinely appreciated his photos of the printing shop with moveable-type equipment that he visited in Guatemala and especially his sensitive portraits of the printers. 

Although, quite amazingly, the blogger neglects to identify the location of the shop, called Francisco Franco and Son, other clues in the text point to Quetzaltenango (the country's second-largest city, called Xelaj├║ or Xela locally) as the most likely site.

Link to photos at:

Friday, June 21, 2013

A Letterpress Education: The Mackenzie Printery and Newspaper Museum

Museum exterior
A valuable resource for anyone wishing to become reacquainted with the marvels of letterpress printing is the Mackenzie Printery and Newspaper Museum, Canada's largest working printing museum, located in the village of Queenston, Ontario (5 km north of Niagara Falls). 

The jewel in its rare collection of letterpress, typecasting, and lithography equipment is a Louis Roy Press dating from the 1760s, Canada's oldest press and one of very few original wooden presses remaining in the world.

The museum occupies the restored Georgian home and print shop of publisher and political activist William Lyon Mackenzie, who lived and worked there from 1820 to 1824.  The building was officially opened in 1938 by Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, Mackenzie's great-grandson.  The on-site printing museum came later, in 1990, through a joint partnership between the Niagara Parks Commission, that owns and operates the facility, and a seven-person volunteer Printery Committee, that maintains the collection and secures the necessary operating funds.  

Museum interior
PrintAction publisher Sara Young, who has served on the Printery Committee for over 12 years, wrote me in a recent e-mail:  "I do believe that it is very important, perhaps even more so today, to preserve antique presses and the ancillary equipment that pushed our industry forward and allowed the Canadian printing industry to flourish in Canada from the time of the war of 1812."

From May until Labour Day, the Mackenzie Printery is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily (last tour at 4:30 p.m.)  After Labour Day, it operates only on weekends until it closes for the season in October, either right after Canadian Thanksgiving or Hallowe'en, depending on its volume of visitor traffic.

Besides special exhibitions and a dedicated library, the Printery museum offers all visitors not only a tour of the facilities but also the unique opportunity to try their hand at setting type and operating two of its eight antique presses.  Each visitor also receives a free poster and bookmark.  In all, it's good value for the nominal admission price of $5 (less for children under 12.)

Additionally, for the second year running, in response to growing interest, the Printery offers two half-day, professionally oriented, hands-on letterpress seminars costing $96 each (less for students), six people per class.

The museum is always collecting names of people who are interested in participating in their teaching programs with a view to expanding their offerings.  The contact for this purpose is Harold Meighan:  905-684-7672 /

For general information about the Printery, contact:  905-262-5676 /

For more resources on letterpress printing, please refer to my Pinterest boards entitled History of Printing and Printing Museums and:

More information specifically on the Mackenzie Printery and Newspaper Museum is available at:

Photos in this blog post were provided courtesy of the Mackenzie Printery and Newspaper Museum.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Why new Del Monte labels but not safer cans?

It seems that The Del Monte Corporation, doing business as Del Monte Foods, has its hands full. According to its own Web site, the San Francisco-based company is one of the United States of America’s largest and best known producers, distributors, and marketers of branded food and pet products for the American retail market, generating about $3.7 billion in net sales in fiscal 2010.  In an article dated 15 June 2013, Packaging Digest confirms that Del Monte is the largest player in the category.

The latest news is that the company has just come out with extravagant new packaging designed to convince a suspecting public how safe, wholesome, and “natural” their canned products are.  Since last year its marketing agents have also been generating a storm of spin along the same lines.

Yet if the Internet is any indication, it seems that these days Del Monte’s worst publicity nightmare centres on the fact that their can liners have been proven among the worst offenders on record for their concentrations of BPA (Bisphenol-A--a hormone-disrupting chemical that leeches into foods and that research has linked to heart disease, diabetes, cancers, obesity, reproductive problems, and other medical horrors.)   Last year, in response to consumer concerns, soup giant Campbell's already announced its plan to make its canned products BPA-free.

Under these circumstances, from a humanitarian standpoint, does it really make sense that Del Monte’s recent massive marketing impetus has focused solely on the appearance of their labels and how the contents are processed, instead of dealing with the potentially dangerous substance of their packaging?

Or am I missing something?

Additionally, four days ago on 13 June 2013, The Wall Street Journal reported that Del Monte Corp. is exploring a sale of the canned-food business that made it a household name, said people familiar with the matter, as the company increasingly focuses on products for dogs and cats.”
In this event, until further notice, you’ll probably want to start keeping a closer eye on the BPA levels in whatever you’re feeding to Fluffy and Fido.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Robert Smail's Printing Works, Innerleithen, Scotland - A complete working Victorian jobbing printery

R. Smail & Sons Printing Works
While researching several upcoming articles on historical topics, I ran across the following rare and impressive resource in Scotland:

Robert Smail and Sons was a family business of jobbing printers that operated for three generations in Innerleithen (population 2,586, an hour’s drive south of Edinburgh in the Scottish Borders).  

After a successful run of 120 years from 1866 to 1986, the business closed.  Then the National Trust for Scotland took over the property and still maintains it today as a functioning letterpress shop that still produces commercial printing jobs, including some of the National Trust’s own printed materials.  At the same time, the shop also functions as a living museum, giving visitors the opportunity to see and try their hand at letterpress printing and typesetting.

Setting type
The Smail family’s legacy comprises not only their shop and equipment but also a massive hoard of historical documents.  These take many fascinating forms, including ledgers, personal correspondence, volumes of the St. Ronan’s Standard and Effective Advertiser.(the weekly newspaper the Smails produced for 23 years starting in 1893), 1/4-inch glass plate negatives, and 52 guard books containing everything the print shop ever printed.  (The law required printers to keep a copy of every job for six months, but the Smails did it for nearly 100 years.)  Other records include passenger tickets showing local patterns of immigration to the United States, Canada and South Africa.

Since 2006 until the present a seven-person team of staff and volunteers has been labouring to catalogue and index this archive of documents and make it available on line.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Ever see Steamroller Printing? Shopping for letterpress gear? Try the annual June Printing Arts Fair near Boston

Steamroller Printing returns to the 10th Annual Printing Arts Fair at The Museum of Printing in North Andover (near Boston), Massachusetts.  This year's event will be held on 16 June (Father’s Day) 2013, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

In the featured attraction, a steamroller will print huge 3-foot x 9-foot prints using 27 individual linoleum blocks made by local artists. 
Demonstrations of litho, intaglio, and letterpress printing will also be offered, and rare letterpress accessories and memorabilia (including wood and metal type, gadges, presses, furniture, quoins, gauges, cabinets, galleys, and chases) will be available for sale and at auction at the event. 
The museum’s promotional Weblink reads:
Dad will love the clang of the working printing presses, Mom will marvel at art prints being made and the kids can get ink on their fingers when they set their name in wood type then print it. Everybody will be amazed as hot molten lead is turned into lines of type and kids (of all ages) can print their own Father’s Day card.
More info @:

Monday, June 3, 2013

WANTED: Details on the 1,300 printing companies born in 2013

In a commentary last week called "Consolidation:  Not the Whole Story", Andrew D. Paparozzi, Senior Vice President and Chief Economist, and Joe Vincenzino, Senior Economist, of the National Association for Printing Leadership (NAPL; East Rutherford, New Jersey) point out that in the last several years, the printing industry has seen an average of 1,300 start-ups annually.  They also rightfully lament the fact that, although establishment sources provide such head counts, they don’t furnish any additional information on the types of companies entering the industry. 

In this context Mr. Paparozzi and Mr. Vincenzino admonish printers:

Remember, the companies that are entering the commercial printing industry every year are starting with a clean slate—i.e., without the legacy equipment, work habits, and mindsets that can limit flexibility. They’re coming in with a different workforce, with a different, more relevant set of skills. They don’t have the troublesome issue of long-term, loyal employees whose skill sets don’t quite match the direction on which the company is embarking—new entrants are hiring the skills they need at the start.

Thus, while we may pick up business from the printer that as shut its doors, don’t ignore the rest of the story—a new breed of nimble and tough competitors are entering the industry. Furthermore, don’t be lulled into a false sense of security because new entrants tend to be smaller companies. Smaller companies grow—and the good ones grow rapidly.

From my perspective as a printing-industry journalist and commentator, I’m most interested in investigating and spreading the word about the specifics of all those newfangled types of equipment, workforces, habits, and attitudes.  So now or at any future point, please don’t hesitate to forward me links and details about any new “nimble and tough” start-ups that you uncover or know.