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Preserve our print heritage: James Cryer

Tuesday, 02 May 2017
By James Cryer

(l-r) James Cryer and Scott Telfer, of the Society of Old Friends, hold a copy of an Australian Commonwealth Gazette, published in 1941.

Most industries – especially the craft-based ones, like printing or engineering – are not very good at preserving and honouring their past. There may be good reasons for this: when a new technology is introduced (such as offset replacing letterpress or CTP replacing film) who in their right mind, in the headlong rush to embrace new technology, would deliberately want to hang on to reminders of a discredited way of doing things. And so, lorry-loads of letterpress, truckloads of type and pallet-loads of presses have all been thrown onto the scrap-heap of history.

It’s only decades later that we sometimes come to regret the hasty disposal of what was once the means by which we earned our living. But now, in today’s modern, anodyne era, where mass-production obliterates any notion of ‘hand-made’, we’re starting to revisit some of the old processes and technologies, and even if we can’t re-invigorate them (as is happening with letterpress) we can at least admire and recognise them: hence the rebirthing of various print museums at Penrith, Armidale, Gulgong, and in Melbourne and elsewhere.

Many will recall the brutal reminder of the fragility of such material, when two years ago, the PIAA under its then ill-advised leadership, threw out much valuable and irreplaceable archival records.

I believe, as an industry, we are starting to realise the importance of ‘preserving the past’ – not to dwell on it obsessively, but simply to record and recognise those who went before, and who built the industry to what it is today.

I’m pleased to advise that there is to be a meeting, dedicated to just that: remembering and recalling, in this case, past (or recently departed) printing companies.

The last time we, as an industry, actually recorded the names of printing companies, was back in 1975 when the then Master Printers Association commissioned an academic, Professor Hunt, to write a history of our industry, up to that point. In it, he recorded several lists including both people and member-companies which formed a veritable ‘Who’s Who’ of our industry.

But sadly, there has not been another attempt to reconstruct the crime, so to speak, and so the names and memories of many companies, since then, are in danger of being lost. Be they good or bad, that is not the point: the last 20- or even five-years have seen some of the most radical structural re-adjustments in our story so far. We’ve had closures, we’ve had mergers, we’ve had onslaughts from private equity, we’ve had the GFC – we’ve had the digital revolution … we’ve just about had everything thrown at us except the kitchen sink.

Through it all, somehow, we’ve adapted, evolved, survived. Isn’t it only proper that we should record for posterity those names – they may not have all been shining lights of virtue, but that’s not the point. A curator’s role is not to judge, it’s to preserve.

To make it easy, Scott Telfer, president of the ASOOF, is inviting all those members of our industry who have an interest in preserving print heritage to come along – and bring your long-term memory with you! We aim to reconstruct a list of those printing companies who may have disappeared off the face of the Earth, for whatever reason. Hopefully, this list will form the basis of a more comprehensive record of other printing companies as they come to light, as we’re not expecting to think of every single company in just one sitting.

Scott and I have also been busy digging further back into the mists of time and have come up with a remarkable discovery: a list of printing companies – from ALL states, c1941. This chance discovery is a goldmine, in that it was published in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette in November, 1941, and represents a laundry-list of every printing company that was joined ‘in the matter of an industrial dispute’ at that time. It consists of 12 pages of closely-packed type, and contains over 1,500 names and addresses of printing companies, in each state – at that time.

It is amazing how many names are still familiar; just to name a few – Altshul (Vic), Artcraft (NSW), Besley & Pike (Qld), Wm Brooks (NSW), Craftsman Press (Vic), Frank Daniels (Vic),   Hyde Park Press (SA), McKellar Press (Vic), Troedels (Vic), Waite & Bull (NSW), Websdale Shoosmith (NSW).

Anyway, we hope to scan it and make it available, again, to all those who are interested in such matters and who may have some additional information (hopefully a bit of scandal?) they can add to help complete the story of our industry.

Come along, and we look forward to seeing as many of you as possible – and bring your thinking caps!

* Note: The ASOOF is not a shadowy organisation of tax-dodgers. Well, it is, but it’s also a group of like-minded ”print industry tragics” who meet several times a year and enjoy sharing their recollections and reminiscences about their experiences in the industry. Let us know if you’d like to become a member.

Date and Venue: 31st May, Roseville Golf Club, NSW

Email: Scott Telfer – swtelfer@bigpond.com

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