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

Owners and firms

Owners and firms

One can usefully divide printing enterprises into categories. First there was the Government Printing Office, now GP Print, absorbed within the Whitcoulls Group, and owned by US Office Products, but for over a century a producer of every kind of official publication.

There are the institutional presses, such as at the universities, several of which have their own printing plants; for example, the Otago University printery, and Massey University's printery, which provides study materials for over 600 extramural courses.

The commercial printing firms, large and small, can be subdivided into those mainly concerned with producing newspapers, and those devoted to general and jobbing printing. None of them have been exclusively committed to book printing. Some have been specialist enterprises devoted to lithography, photo-engraving, etc., and nowadays to colour graphics.

There has been, since the 1930s, a distinct group of small to medium sized 'literary' presses, such as Caxton, Pegasus and Griffin, operating commercially but for much of their lives committed to literary publications and periodicals. Printeries 'with a cause' have included religion-based enterprises such as the printing establishment of the Gospel Publishing House, Palmerston North. Finally there is an array of private presses and hobby printers, although some of these seek at least to break even, as with the Holloway Press, at Auckland University's Tamaki campus.

The printing industry has always been so structured that it is fairly easy for an individual to move from employee to owner and back again. At certain times the capital outlay necessary to establish even a small printing firm has been substantial relative to the worker's opportunities to accumulate capital, but technical innovations have also meant that second hand equipment would be readily available at a reasonable price. Because many firms are very small, with only two or three employees, there is also likely to be a great deal of uniformity of outlook between the owners and the workers on many issues.

There have been few histories of firms apart from newspapers, which have always marked their own jubilees or centennials with special supplements. The Jubilee Souvenir 1860-1910 of H.I. Jones & Son of Wanganui is a rare example of an historical booklet produced by a firm which did not publish a newspaper. Glue (1966) is the only substantial institutional history apart, again, from the newspapers.

Directories supply the readiest means of identifying printing firms, particularly those with a separate classified trade section. These may not list all printers in any particular town, as small firms are particularly vulnerable to being overlooked by canvassers or to collapsing before they can be recorded. The newspaper and printer registrations at the High Court (formerly the Supreme Court) should in theory provide a more complete coverage, with the registrations under the Printers and Newspapers Registration Act 1868 requiring information on the number of presses owned, as well as the names and addresses of the printers. The 1868 Act has now been replaced by the Newspapers and Printers Act 1955 which does not require the registration of printing presses, only the ownership of newspapers. Since 1979, changes in ownership of the larger firms, and other developments, can be traced through the business index Newzindex, which is available online as well as in paper.

The Master Printers' Federation has published its own journal, Printing Prestige, from 1935 to 1951, followed by Printers' News, since 1953, when it was taken over from the Auckland Master Printers' Association which founded it in 1943. These will be the basic source of information for the history of the Federation; a special issue in 1957 provided a history of the Federation. Clarkson and Berry contributed a brief survey to McKay (1940), and in 1989 A.E.J. Arts published History of the Canterbury Master Printers, the only substantial regional history. The federal body has now become the Printing Industries Association of New Zealand; as is usual with trade organisations, the records of the individual branches normally remain with the surviving bodies.

Patrick Day's The Making of the New Zealand Press (1990) contains potted biographies of men associated with running newspapers in the early period, some of them printers.

For the earlier period, for provincial firms, often their own printed letterheads for invoices provide details of changing proprietors, and of services offered. More recently, for firms, there are simply the relevant sections in commercial portions of telephone books, which may include display entries showing the various services provided.

Rowan Gibbs, Smith's Bookshop Ltd, has compiled two looseleaf manuscript indexes of pre-1890 printers from imprints of books in Volume 1 of Bagnall's National Bibliography by name and by place.

Some firms such as Coulls Somerville Wilkie are relatively well-documented, with records in the Hocken Library, its history in Invicta News (and in a more extended form in typescript in the Hocken Library), and a profile in Tait (1961). Whitcombe & Tombs produced a prospectus on the merger of the two firms, first as Printing and Packaging Corporation, then as Whitcoulls.

Denis Glover's Hot Water Sailor (1962) has an entertaining account of his launching of the Caxton Press, with John Drew and others. Peter Low's Printing by the Avon (1995) recounts the history of this small, high quality printing and publishing firm. Robert Gormack's The Nag's Head Press (1992) deals with his own small semi-commercial press, including a list of publications.

Such business information resources as Datex investment service, the NZ Company Register, and the Nielsen Media Directory disclose the massive extent to which most of the more substantial New Zealand printing, newspaper, publishing, bookselling and paper making companies have recently been taken over by overseas corporations: the Whitcoulls Group (including what had been the Government Printing Office, GP Print Ltd), by US Office Products (Blue Star), Independent Newspapers Ltd by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation Ltd, Wilson & Horton by Dr Tony O'Reilly's Dublin-based Independent News; and so it goes on. Datex especially provides much information about the makeup and recent history of the larger New Zealand companies.