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


The technology of printing has been entirely imported and all significant changes have been introduced from the European or North American places of invention. Detailed information about the techniques can be found in the printers' manuals of England or America; a number of these have been made available since the 1960s, and much of the relevant material is summarised in Philip Gaskell's compendium A New Introduction to Bibliography (1972) which has a useful section of 'Reference Bibliography', covering the various technical aspects divided by period. The earliest printing in New Zealand used many of the techniques of the wooden press era (pre-1800), and there was then a transition to the technology current in England. Conditions in North America were often closer to the New Zealand situation than those in Britain, and works such as R.G. Silver's The American Printer 1787-1825 (1967) are worth consulting for general background.

Technical innovations can be traced through the contemporary trade journals. The most common sources were British journals such as the British Printer (London, 1888- ) and the Chicago publication Inland Printer, although other sources were also available. Individual manufacturers of machinery and other equipment would advertise in the local trade journals, and the Australian firms of printers' brokers could supply trade literature. Later in the 19th century, several New Zealand firms added the function of printers' broker to their other areas of activity; their identity must be discovered through their advertisements in the New Zealand or Australian trade journals such as Typo or, at a later date, Printers' News, the journal of the Master Printers' Federation.

In the 20th century, on the whole, New Zealand print production processes have exhibited an accelerated pace of technological change, keeping not far behind developments in the larger, more heavily industrialised countries. Even so, older technologies persisted for a long time in niche areas, as in the continuing use of hand-set type for advertisements or posters, and of manual presses for proofing (see, for an example, William Cameron, Centenary of a Press, 1963).

Hardware (typesetting machines, presses, guillotines, bindery presses, etc.) and new skills have still had to be imported. Type and ink have also been imported extensively, although local manufacturers, such as the ink-making firm Morrison & Morrison (ceased 1994), have taken increasing shares of the market. For a long time, all printing papers had to be imported, but since the 1950s New Zealand has become more than self-sufficient in the manufacture of newsprint and of most kinds of uncoated printing papers.

Agencies for overseas suppliers, new migrants, travelling New Zealanders, overseas trade journals such as those already mentioned, and Penrose's Pictorial Annual, and advertisements in their own journals, have kept New Zealand printers in touch with overseas developments and induced them to invest in new plant. A representative collection of text resources which had been acquired and consulted by printers is documented in the Ferrymead Printing Society's Catalogue of Printing Technical Books (1993), which includes operating manuals for machines, catalogues for type and equipment, guides to typography and costing, and trade magazines, mainly from Britain or the USA. A noteworthy example of a migrant who introduced important innovations was Arthur McKee, who brought a linotype machine with him when he immigrated in 1890, introduced new photo-engraving techniques, and was the first printer in the southern hemisphere to run a press with an electric motor (see R.F. McKee's article in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, vol.3).

The New Zealand Patent Office Journal (1912- ) contains a record of all patents, trade marks and designs registered in New Zealand. These include many overseas developments as well as New Zealand registrations; in both categories there are a number of innovations relevant to printing technology. Before the Journal was established the annual report of the Patent Office (AJHR H.1, 1885, and subsequent years) included lists with the same information. The Patent Office records, both in the current material held in the Office (in Lower Hutt) and the non-current records deposited in National Archives, contain the fuller specifications of the patents registered.

Probably the most notable of local inventors was Frederick W. Sears, who pioneered a process for photo-lithography, in the first years of this century; his article on 'alzinography' in Penrose's Pictorial Annual (1908-09) describes his process, and the contribution of a Chicago lawyer and engineer, Ira Washington Rubel, who invented the offset printing press that made it work (see also McKay, 1940, p.109). W.H. Thomas in The Inky Way (1960; see pp.89-90) writes of E. Richards' invention of a remarkably durable plate for offset printing, utilised by Thomas in New Zealand Pictorial News.

There has been only one general survey of developments in the technology of printing in New Zealand, the work of McKay, 'Cavalcade of printing' (1940b). The 19th-century industrial exhibitions included sections on the printing industry and accounts in the exhibition reports and catalogues can be very useful, even when the descriptions are very brief. The first of these exhibitions, the New Zealand Exhibition held in Dunedin in 1865, is the most useful of these reports with the commentary in Reports and Awards of the Jurors (under class VIII: Printing and allied machinery, and class XXVIII: Paper, stationery, printing and bookbinding) being very rewarding. The New Zealand Industrial Exhibition in Wellington in 1885 also provides some useful commentary in its Official Record, as does the Official Catalogue of the New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition in Dunedin, 1889-90. Other exhibition catalogues and handbooks provide much less detail.

Given the broad division between composition and presswork, within the composition or 'pre-press' area, right through to about 1970, there was a sharp distinction between typesetting and graphic processes, such as lithography or photo-engraving. From the 1970s onward, with the development of computerised composition, this polarity has become less clear cut. In terms of personnel, there was a correspondingly clear separation of 'printing' workers from lithographers and process engravers. Larger printing works usually had their own process departments; but smaller firms specialised in one trade or in another. Now, in the 1990s, most of the larger firms have the capacity to carry out four-colour graphic work; but even so, there is a discernible category of firms that specialise in high-quality graphics. Among the local journals, Printers' News serves the mainstream, whereas the New Zealand Printer and Graphix have been directed towards the specialists (Graphix has included a particular interest in the printing of packaging). Computype Briefs (10 issues, 1989-91) also appealed to graphics specialists.

A crucial dimension of technology is the skills of work people. An unsigned article, 'The printing and publishing industry of the dominion: an analysis', in Printing Prestige, 1 (October 1935) noted that printing and publishing was then 'easily the largest secondary industry in the country', and provided the highest percentage of added value, 278%, through the skilled use of its technology. Adequate levels of training of apprentices in the various crafts was thus always a major concern. In more prosperous times, the retention of skilled tradesmen could present serious difficulties for provincial printing companies, as for example, for the Hawera Star Co., which sometimes had to import tradesmen from England to replace those who left for the main centres (see One Hundred Today: The Hawera Star 1880-1980, 10 April 1980, p.86).

The most drastic technological innovations in the 'modern' era in printing have been in typesetting processes. The first major transformation was the progressive, but never complete, displacement, from about 1890 onwards, of hand-setting by the introduction of Linotype, Monotype and other hot-metal machines, notably Intertype and Ludlow. Whereas previously big companies had had large numbers of hand-compositors working long hours, the operators of these machines could get through work more quickly. But substantial, and extended, craft skills were still required; and increased volumes of work brought about net gains in employment levels. The second 'revolution' has been the introduction of computer typesetting from the 1970s onward. Roberta Hill and Bob Gidlow in From Hot Type to Cold Metal (1988) indicate that it has been more devastating, leaving less and less room for the exercise of the skills of the printing craftsman or woman. Graphic process work has also been transformed, now that images can be directly scanned, and integrated into layouts; again, the new technology has displaced the highly skilled craftspeople.

Advances in printing press technology have been more frequent, and step-by-step. The skills required have changed, and the work of operators become less laborious. The introduction of steam, gas and eventually electric power obviated the need for muscle power, but manual feeding of paper for general printing persisted much longer. The introduction of automatic feeding enabled presses to work much faster.

Technological processes available at a particular period have been outlined in Hutcheson (1938), in McKay (1940), in the Federation of Master Printers' brochure, The Printing Industry in New Zealand (1969), in the brochure entitled simply Unity Press Ltd, Auckland, in Oliver (1976), and in Hill and Gidlow (1988).

Individual newspaper histories, usually published as special supplements to the newspaper in question, have customarily included descriptions of the currently used technology and sometimes a survey of the past technology. An excellent example of the genre is the Otago Daily Times 1861-1961: First Hundred Years, in which commentary on the paper's history is combined with notes on the advertisers, most of whom are suppliers of paper, ink and printing machinery. The Christchurch paper, The Press, is unusual for publishing a separate hardback book, R.B. O'Neill's The Press 1861-1961, for its centenary.

The isolated examples of jobbing printers issuing publicity booklets, such as H.I. Jones & Son Ltd's Jubilee Souvenir 1860-1910, may include photographs and commentary to provide some technical information. Newspaper advertising supplements when a printing firm has opened new premises may also provide significant technical information on current equipment; the identification of these supplements will be difficult without systematic scanning of newspaper pages, since they are seldom covered by indexing sources.