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Pressgang visit Penrith Museum

Friday, 07 September 2018
By James Cryer

Matt Schembri of the PIAA and James Cryer of JDA Print Recruitment, hand over the copper wall-plaque which originally came from Halkeas Press, to the Penrith Museum of Printing. This hand-beaten copper plaque depicts Gutenberg’s workshop, c1448 and so is a fitting reminder of the birth of printing.

The Penrith Museum of Print has host a visit from one of its sister organisations, the Pressgang, founded some 40 years ago by members from  the newspaper sector, writes Pressgang member James Cryer.

The group was welcomed by long-term member of both the Pressgang and the PMOP, former Fairfax print supremo and now gentleman of leisure, Bob Lockley. 

In fact, the group was here to observe the various machines running – all ably manned by three hired hands, Peter Butterworth, John Berry and George Gearside, all impressively decked-out in period costume of starched white shirts, aprons and nifty bow-ties, accurately replicating that bygone era when tradesman considered themselves superior creatures above all, especially the comps.

First cab off-the-rank were the Linotypes. Bob was quick to point out his expertise as, ba

ck in the mists of time, he too, cut his teeth as an apprentice with Fairfax. Peter gave a fascinating history of moveable type and Gutenberg’s ingenious ideas regarding the casting of type, the use of various metals, – all of which were ‘miracles’ for that time, but which we tend to gloss over now.

It took another German (one residing in New York) just over 400 years later, Ottmar Mergenthaler, to create another disruptive technology: this time the Linotype machine, which was loved or hated depending on whether you were a traditional hand-compositor who had just been retrenched, or one of the newly-trained operators. The machine – first installed by the New York Tribune – was arguably the most complicated mechanical contraption ever devised. Edison himself (of light-bulb fame and universally acknowledged as the world;’s greatest inventor) described it as the ‘eighth wonder of the world’.

The group was fortunate to have a Linotype operator in the building, in John Berry, who is fresh from as starring role in the soon to be released movie Ladies in Black.  as a Linotype operator in the Fairfax building in Ultimo, back in the 1960s, with his scene filmed in the Museum in Penrith.

Following John’s turn George Gearside rose to the occasion as he showed his virtuoso talents by operating not one but six letterpress devices, not all at the same time.

The sextet in question consisted of the Albion – the Wharfedale, the Chandler & Price, the Arab, the Heidelberg GTO, and the Vertical Miehle.

Members of the Pressgang looked on in wonderment, having been brought up in the cloistered world of ‘press-button technology, they had no idea how hard these poor unfortunate sheet-fed guys had to work. It was a great meeting enjoyed by all – and a special thanks to the three stars of the show – Peter, John and George – and to Stephanus Peters, but especially to Bob Lockley who organised the event.

In appreciation, Pressgang’s convenor, James Ackland on behalf of the group, made a generous $300 donation to the Museum and assured it of the group’s ongoing support.

The day contained another pleasant surprise, with the Pressgang members were witness to the timely arrival of another piece of print memorabilia.

 Delivered courtesy of Matt Schembri, of the PIAA, a huge copper wall-plaque which has adorned their walls for some time, has now been re-gifted for permanent display at the PMOP. The plaque was originally given to James Cryer by Stan Halkeas, of Halkeas Printing (back in 2010), who passed it on to the PIAA for safekeeping.

Cryer says, “Let’s hope this artefact can find peace and solace, safely housed among friends in its new spiritual home at the Museum.

We hope to acknowledge the PIAA’s role, in a more public way, at the Museum’s soft-opening hopefully around late-November.

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