My journey through time to an earlier, grittier and dare I say more romantic age of print began here at the Whiteman Park Print Shop in Perth Western Australia.
My guide was Phil. Phil is a reservoir of knowledge but more importantly he loves his presses as much as my character Helen loves hers. That love for the machine, the thrill of the possibilities is very important, it is very real and not a figment of my imagination.
To restore a rusty, cantankerous press to pristine, full working order is a true labor of love, patience and skill.
Now I’m not saying everyone should have an obsessive preoccupation with antique printing presses but every writer, reader or beneficiary of the printed word should spare a few minutes to consider its humble beginnings. I mean where would we be today if Gutenberg hadn’t invented the printing press? Would we have had the phenomenal scientific breakthroughs that lead us to the modern age? Would the industrial revolution have happened, let alone the technological revolution?
I don’t think it would.
My journey doesn’t go all they way back to Gutenberg, though I won’t rule that out for future exploration. For this research trip I focused on the 1860’s and later. These machines at their birth were not mere hunks of cast iron; they were well oiled works of art.
The most grandiose, splendid example are the old iron presses which began with The Colombian and the Albion. Unfortunately the Whiteman Park collection doesn’t include any of these but….
Check out these beauties from Howard Iron Works in Canada, go on have a look its worth it.
Oh and have a look at this fantastic one.
- 1837–Porter Britannia
Doesn’t their elegance of design and elaborate embellishments make your heart skip a beat or two? Mine does.
The presses that really peak my interest are the platen presses, the kind you probably think of at the mention of antique presses, with the foot treadle and large wheel on the side, like the one above.
I will try not to fill every post for months on end with these marvelous machines but I will from time to time do a feature on one or other of the Whiteman Park Print Shop presses.
And if you happen to be in Perth and have a preoccupation with movable type and elegant machines rumor has it they will be starting workshops. I love to see this art being carried on to my generation and beyond.
In this day of everything being cheap and instant I love the tactile solid nature of old fashioned print, the feel of the type in my hand, the impression it leaves on the page, the sound of the treadle bringing the wheel to life bringing together the meeting of the plates, leaving an indelible impression.
Meet the “Gem”, the press that stole my heart.