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Book & Print in New Zealand : A Guide to Print Culture in Aotearoa


The technology of printing had to be imported into New Zealand, accompanied by the skilled operators. The central processes were, and are, composition (once involving literally the setting of type, but now, in the new technology, better described as keyboarding) and presswork (the multiplying of copies by means of machines, ever more sophisticated). Equipment and skills came directly from Europe, the birthplace of printing four centuries earlier, in particular from Great Britain, the colonial master, and also indirectly by way of Australia, the nearest colonial neighbour, and later on from North America. The nature and extent of these importations into New Zealand have yet to be studied in any extensive and systematic way.

Of the relatively few scholarly studies of New Zealand print production, the majority have been directed to the 1840s and 1850s. For later periods, such historical studies, and overviews of contemporary situations, as have appeared, have mostly originated from within the trade itself.

A.G. Bagnall's A Reference List of Books and other Publications associated with the New Zealand Centennial 1840-1940 (1942) identifies a significant number of historical surveys published about 1940 which have some relevance to this topic. They include special centennial numbers or supplements of many newspapers, local histories that would include information about newspaper and other printing, and, outstandingly, A History of Printing in New Zealand 1830 -1940, ed. R.A. McKay (1940).

This History contains 13 cogent essays, including two by the editor himself, and concludes with two lighter hearted pieces, and valuable biographies of some of the more prominent individuals of the trade, with details of the firms they were associated with. Andersen's essays on 'Early printing in New Zealand' and 'Maori printers and translators' remain useful, with later studies filling in further details. They are based upon Colenso's Fifty Years Ago in New Zealand, with additional material from the papers by T.M. Hocken ('The beginnings of literature in New Zealand: Part II') and Henry Hill ('Early printing in New Zealand') in the Transactions of the New Zealand Institute. These sources retain some independent interest: Hill's paper, for example, includes a useful commentary upon Colenso's 'Day and Waste book' (now held in the Turnbull Library).

McKay himself contributed 'Cavalcade of printing' and 'Process-engraving', and compiled the later, more anecdotal pieces. Tom L. Mills wrote about newspapers in 'The press: an historical survey', Kenneth McLean Baxter about 'The printing trade union' and E.W. Clarkson and L.J. Berry about 'Organisations of employers'. H.J. Tubbs contributed an essay of 'Stationery manufacture', W.B. Sutch an 'Economic survey', with accompanying graphs and tables of statistics, and Andersen a piece on 'The Maori alphabet', as well as collaborating with A.B. Clark on 'Our craftsmen go overseas, Great War 1914-18'. Sir Apirana Ngata wrote about 'The Maori and printed matter', and there is an essay compiled 'from official sources' on the 'Government Printing Office'.

While most of these essays are relatively limited in the detail they provide, they remain sound introductions to their respective areas, and are often at their most valuable where the writers, a distinguished group, were working from firsthand knowledge. McKay himself merits respect as a man who had experience in all aspects of printing, in trade union leadership, and briefly in operating as a master printer himself, and who had devoted himself in the late 1930s to the study of the history of New Zealand printing—a true scholar-craftsman. The volume itself is elegantly produced by the standards of the time, and through its plates, most of which are unrelated to the text, served as a showcase for the skills of contemporary colour printers.

Fiona Macmillan, in her 1969 booklet New Zealand for the 'Spread of Printing' series, made a noble effort at a survey, accurate as far as it goes but severely limited by the insufficiency of material to draw on. In 1950 the Federation of Master Printers of New Zealand included Early Printing in New Zealand in their series of booklets on the printing industry; this concentrated on the technology rather than the people. Most recently, Tolla Williment's 150 years of Printing in New Zealand (1985) is the first attempt by a single author to survey the field in its entirety, and it is a tolerable popular introduction with a slight bias towards the mission printing of the early years which was to be expected in view of its sponsorship by the Bible Society.

Regional studies are scarce. Albert A. Smith's Printing in Canterbury (1953) is the only published work to attempt a complete chronological coverage, and for Otago, there is an unpublished typescript, 'Printing in Dunedin and Otago, 1847-1937' by Joseph Longhurst Gregory (died 1959), revised by R.V.S. Perry (1969), lodged in the Hocken Library. For Wellington, there are potted histories of firms in the Wellington province in the Centenary 1862-1962 publication of the Wellington branch of the Printing and Related Trades Union (1962). Hocken's notes in Contributions to the Early History of New Zealand (Otago Settlement) (1898) are the only substantial contribution to any general regional history, with the chronological restriction inevitable in the character of the work which contains it. Other early regional histories often include notes on the newspaper history of the region—an almost inevitable result of their compilation by journalists—but these are often not reliable.

Recent more systematic scholarship is best represented by the theses of Patricia Burns ('The foundation of the New Zealand press', PhD, 1957) and Lishi Kwasitsu (published as Printing and the Book Trade in Early Nelson, 1996) and the work of K.A. Coleridge who has published several papers on the early Wellington trade. 'Printing and publishing in Wellington' (1986) and 'Thriving on impressions' in the 1990 essay collection The Making of Wellington 1800-1914 (eds. Hamer and Nicholls) cover different angles of what is the same general ground. The first of these was reprinted in Early Printing in New Zealand (1989), together with a more general survey paper by Roderick Cave and K.A. Coleridge, 'For Gospel and wool trade' (1985).

Sources for historical studies are widely scattered. The primary documents are the products of the presses themselves, catalogued principally in the New Zealand National Bibliography to 1960 ed. A.G. Bagnall, the New Zealand National Bibliography (from 1966) and its online companion the New Zealand Bibliographic Network. The publications between 1961 and 1966 were catalogued in the 'Current national bibliography' (issued with Index to New Zealand Periodicals). The more significant serial publications and journal articles for the earlier years were included by Hocken in his Bibliography of the Literature relating to New Zealand (1909), the most substantial of earlier attempts at a national bibliography. There is a nearly complete listing of New Zealand newspapers in D. Ross Harvey's Union List of Newspapers Preserved in Libraries (1987), and this is the only up-to-date and comprehensive guide, incorporating the locations of surviving copies.

As a newspaper press was usually the first, and often the only, printing firm in any settlement, the newspaper history will be a significant source of local information on printing. Guy Scholefield's Newspapers in New Zealand (1958) is the only general survey of newspaper history, extending to the late 1940s. It outlines the history of the people and firms that produced these newspapers, as well as jobbing and general printing, and occasionally includes details about their equipment. It can be corrected on many points of detail, especially for some early titles with convoluted publishing histories, but provides a good general survey concentrating on the ownership and editorial history.

Individual newspapers, usually in the main cities, and their owners have been the subject of several theses, most of which concentrate on the editorial history and the political relationships; and historical accounts of some newspapers have appeared in the journals published by local historical societies, and even more frequently in the newspaper itself if it has survived. Most local history journals have been indexed in Index to New Zealand Periodicals (1941-86), and more recently in Index New Zealand (1987- ). The terms used are quite broad, and in the earlier title local history was often merely given a general reference such as 'Wanganui-History' for the entire periodical, so that the complete run must be searched. One separately published survey of local newspapers worthy of emulation is R.F. Johncock's Brief History of the Press: Napier and Hastings Newspapers (1991), which includes a section on the technology with illustrations which make it very useful. Frank Fyfe of Greytown was working (until his death in June 1997) on a book-length study of the history of the newspapers of the Wairarapa for the period 1874 to 1938, which was to include information about their presses and other equipment.

Many newspaper firms, and other printing companies, have produced historical publications at the times of their own centennials, which provide useful information not only about themselves, but also about predecessor firms, and often about their relations with other firms in the same city. A notable example is Coulls Somerville Wilkie's history of its own development (probably by T.C. Coull), which includes much information about Dunedin printing in the 19th century; this was published in successive issues of its house journal Invicta News, in 1945-47, but the typescript version, in the company archives in the Hocken Library, is more inclusive.

A valuable overview of printing technologies at a certain period was provided by George R. Hutcheson's H.B. & J.'s Handbook (1938). Oliver (1976) offered an overview for the early 1970s directed to production statistics, and economic issues. Oliver stressed the 'splintered' nature of the New Zealand printing industry, with an already relatively small market divided up between geographically dispersed printing firms.

An annual overview of the general state of the printing industry was traditionally provided in presidential addresses to the conference of the national Master Printers' Federation. Between 1935 and 1951 these were published in its journal Printing Prestige. Brief reports on printing and publishing can be found in the annual editions of the New Zealand Official Yearbook, usually within the articles headed 'Publishing', and valuable statistics for printing and associated industries in the 'Manufacturing' section.

The work of print material production in this country extends well beyond what can be found in the bibliographies mentioned above. Even for books and pamphlets, there are some categories of items of a modest nature for which Hocken, Bagnall and others would have included, at most, only the earliest printings. A good deal of the 'bread and butter' book work that has kept New Zealand printing houses busy was excluded by Bagnall, such as reprints of school books and cookery books. The latter deficiency is covered by Hugh Price's excellent bibliography School Books Published in New Zealand to 1960 (1992), covering the entire educational field. It is complemented by Ian McLaren's Whitcombe's Story Books: A Trans-Tasman Survey (1984), a scholarly study of a quite important area of printing and publishing. It is estimated that between 1908 and 1962 over 12 million copies were published of these supplementary readers, the majority of them produced in New Zealand by Whitcombe & Tombs's own printing works (its Melbourne and Sydney branches contracted out to local printers).

There is, unfortunately, no complete listing of serial titles published in New Zealand, let alone a proper bibliography. Hocken (1909) lists the more important early titles, and others have been catalogued on the New Zealand Bibliographic Network, as new titles were added to the current National Bibliography. Current titles are recorded in the Index to New Zealand Periodicals and Index New Zealand. However, these recent sources can only be used to identify titles already known of through other sources.

For non-book work, there are such sampling works as Ellen Ellis's The New Zealand Poster Book 1830-1940 (1977) and R.P. Hargreaves and T.J. Hearn's New Zealand in the Mid-Victorian Era: An Album of Contemporary Engravings (1977). However, many of these were not printed in New Zealand, as is true of most items listed in the comprehensive catalogue, E.M. and D.C. Ellis's Early Prints of New Zealand 1642-1875 (1978). On the other hand, The Postage Stamps of New Zealand (1938- ), published by the Royal Philatelic Society, deals with issues that have been printed by the Government Printer, as well as with those contracted out to overseas specialists. There are the files of newspapers, and most notably their Christmas supplements, which for some decades were lavishly illustrated (often, also, containing loose colour plates), as showcases for the capabilities of their process departments. Typical of these are the 1936 issues of the Auckland Star's Brett's Christmas Annual, the Christchurch Press's New Zealand Illustrated, the Otago Daily Times & Otago Witness Christmas Annual, and, for the weeklies, the Weekly News Christmas Number and the New Zealand Free Lance Annual. There are also the files of magazines. From the 1950s onward, such journals as Printers'
Black and white photograph

The interior of the George Davis Printing Works, Christchurch (1901), photographed by Steffano Francis Webb (1880?-1967). The presence of women is a topic for further interesting research; for example, as late as the 1960s it was not possible for young women to be taken on as hand-typesetting apprentices in the Government Printing Office. Women were, however, often employed in binderies, though not as tradespeople. (Steffano Webb Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, NZ, reference number G-3941-1/1-)

News, The New Zealand Printer and Graphix have exemplified in their illustrations the processes they documented. There are collections of ephemera, such as the collections of printed music, and of theatre programmes, in the Turnbull, Hocken and Auckland Public Libraries.

The records of individual printing or publishing houses (they were often the same institution in the period before about 1960) have survived only by chance in individual cases, when the enterprise no longer exists. A 'Printing Record Book' for 1941 to 1956 from Whitcombe & Tombs (of Christchurch) is held in photocopy by the Turnbull Library, which also holds records of the Wellington printing firm, Harry H. Tombs Ltd (1910-57), and important documents from the printing houses of William Colenso and his successor John Telford. In National Archives of New Zealand are the major group of records for the Government Printing Office in its various historical incarnations as the Government Printing and Stationery Department, the Government Printing Department, the Printing Office, and, finally, Government Print. These are important not only for the history of government printing and publishing, but also for the historical series of details relating to technical developments in printing presses, typefaces and other aspects of equipment.

Some production records of Whitcombe & Tombs from the early 1920s, held by Whitcoulls Publishers Ltd, Christchurch, about 1984, are listed in Appendix 3 of McLaren (1984); although chiefly publishing records they include material relevant for printing. Selected records of Coulls Somerville Wilkie are in the Hocken Library. Some records of H.L. Young are in the Manawatu Museum. Certain records of Watson & Eyre, and the Manawatu Times, Palmerston North, and of the Raetihi Printing Co., are presently held by Massey University's English Department, but will go to the Manawatu Museum. Some records of the Wanganui Herald are in the Whanganui Regional Museum Archives. Surviving records of the Wanganui Chronicle are in Wanganui Newspapers Ltd's strong room. Records of Hawkes Bay Newspapers Ltd are preserved by the company in microfilm. Selected records of John McIndoe Ltd (Dunedin) in the Hocken Library, and of the Pegasus Press (Christchurch) in the Canterbury Museum, are concerned with publishing only. The Turnbull has some records of the Black Light and Standard Presses. These are examples only; a proper census remains to be done.

Harvey, in his paper 'Towards a bibliography of New Zealand newspapers' (1989a), notes some of the most useful sources for newspaper history. The 19th-century journals New Zealand Press News and Typographical Circular (1876-79) and the Colonial Printers' Register (1879-81) published by George Griffin were primarily trade union journals but provide some information on technical developments and ownership concerns. The Australasian Typographical Journal (1870-1916) was principally Australian in coverage but did include some New Zealand items. Much more significant for its coverage was R. Coupland Harding's Typo (1887-97) which was intended for the industry as a whole, employers as well as workmen, and produced a valuable commentary on all aspects of developments in the trade. The Wai-te-ata Press edition of Selections from Typo (1982) prints all the passages specific to the New Zealand trade, including some of the advertisements which contain useful information on equipment sources and agencies. More recently, a trade journal of importance has been the Printers' News (1943- ) of the Master Printers' Federation, succeeding their Printing Prestige.