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Introduction to Typo: A Monthly Newspaper and Literary Review [1887-1897]

The Digital Typo

Colour masthead of Typo

Typo. A Monthly Newspaper and Literary Review [1887-1897] is a landmark in New Zealand printing and publishing, famous in its time, then forgotten, and now re-discovered. In addition to a wealth of information ranging from the latest domestic and international news about printing and the allied book trades, Typo includes book reviews such as Julius Vogel’s Anno Domini or Women’s Destiny , tipped in specimens featuring a full-colour cover design for Edward Tregear’s Potona, or Unknown New Zealand , and articles about the latest developments in phonography, stenography, universal language, and “Kaliografi.” This periodical is an example of a worldwide phenomenon of the nineteenth century, the typographical journal. What sets it apart, however, is the attention paid to its visual display. The series of articles entitled « Design in Typography » are both singularly important and astute contributions to the international dialogue about aesthetics and offer clear and concise instructions to the practical printer.

This digital edition of Typo makes the complete journal available widely for the first time. There are less than a dozen sets extant worldwide; each set is a unique artifact in its own right, with many variations in the printing, binding, and marks of transmission. This edition combines copies found primarily in the J.C. Beaglehole Room of the University Library at Victoria University of Wellington with variant issues in the Alexander Turnbull Library at the National Library of New Zealand.

Typo is the centerpiece of a three-year research project on typographical journals funded by the Marsden Fund of the Royal Society of New Zealand. Entitled “The Printers’ Web: Typographical Journals and Global Communication Networks in the Nineteenth Century,” the project tracks the rich personal, professional, and textual interchanges between a number of printer-journalists who produced these journals, including: “Australian Jack” whose imperial career linked the Australasian Typographical Journal with the South African Typographical Journal; Hugh Finlay who lived in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada and was responsible for The Printer’s Miscellany; John Southward from Liverpool and London who became the trade’s self-styled historian during a period of enormous technological change and poignant nostalgia for the past. For more information, please contact the project leader, Dr. Sydney J. Shep, Senior Lecturer in Print & Book Culture, The Printer, Wai-te-ata Press, Victoria University of Wellington: sydney.shep@vuw.ac.nz.

Black and white photograph of Robert Coupland Harding

Robert Coupland Harding: The Man behind Typo

Robert Coupland Harding. has often been portrayed as New Zealand’s most accomplished typographer and printer, but today he remains virtually unknown. Historically resting in the shadow of William Colenso (1811-1899) who is famous for printing the Bible in Maori and the Treaty of Waitangi, New Zealand’s founding document, Harding’s story is a compelling example of technical virtuosity overlaid with pointed critical acumen, quiet self-possession punctuated by determined professionalism. From 1887-1897, he singled-handedly wrote, composed, printed and internationally distributed Typo. A Monthly Newspaper and Literary Review. This journal represents the pinnacle of a career devoted to the world of visible language.

Robert Coupland Harding was born in Wellington in 1849, son of Thomas Bennick Harding, a London-trained printer and bookbinder, who emigrated to New Zealand in 1848 with his wife Jane Coupland. In 1850, Harding senior established a printing business in the provincial centre of Wanganui north of Wellington, and founded the first Sons of Temperance lodge in the country. When fire destroyed both home and shop in 1858, the family moved to Napier on the East Coast where Thomas Bennick Harding started up again in 1861. A fortuitous meeting at a local book auction between the eleven-year-old Coupland Harding and the fifty-year-old William Colenso initiated a friendship which was to persist through the next thirty-eight years. Harding junior took up an apprenticeship at a local printing house which his father subsequently bought out in 1864 along with the The Hawkes Bay Times which he transformed into the first east coast daily. Coupland Harding worked alongside his father and brother as compositor and journalist. During the Maori wars, he enlisted in the Napier Rifle Volunteers, saw active service during the Poverty Bay engagements of 1868/69 and was New Zealand’s first war correspondent. Unusually for the time, he lobbied for Maori rights during the subsequent land confiscations, printed a Maori newspaper, and retained more than a passing ethnographic interest in and enduring sympathy for the tangata whenua, their language and their culture.

Harding’s political sensibility was matched by an equally strong commitment to social activism and cultural engagement, a pattern replicated by many, often dissenting or non-conformist, members of the book trades in the settler colonies. In Napier, he was the sometime Head, District Deputy, and Secretary of the Imperial Order of Good Templars [IOOG], Secretary of the Hope of Napier Tent No. 2 of the Independent Order of Rechabites, and Napier agent for the Dunedin-based monthly journal The Temperance Herald and Good Templar Record. He was also a member of the Hawkes Bay Philosophical Society, then Ordinary Member of the Wellington Philosophical Society, both branches of the New Zealand Institute and forerunners of the Royal Society. In later life he was active in the New Zealand Alliance temperance party, a well-respected Presbyterian elder, President of the St. James Mutual Improvement Society (a Wellington literary and debating club), and gave lectures on subjects as diverse as Thomas Love Peacock, rainbows, orality, the moa, spelling reform, phonography, and even decimal and metrical fallacies.

Harding cut his typographic teeth on a series of eleven local directories entitled Harding’s Almanac [1880-91]. Essentially a textual microcosm of East Coast New Zealand, this combination calendar, diary, year book, local guide, gazetteer, and directory enabled Harding to showcase his copious stock of international typographic specimens, both ornamental and alphabetic, collected since his apprenticeship days. Florid trade advertisements are joined by triglot calendars in Maori, Danish, and Jewish. Sophisticated tabular display alternates with astute literary analysis. Harding even experiments with his own typographic identity. The pages of Harding’s Almanac bear witness to the increasingly assured hand of a master “artistic printer” and from later editions emerges the template for the journal Typo. From the outset, the inclusion of press reviews foregrounds the importance of his typographic enterprise and demonstrates the impact Harding made both at home and abroad. As the London-based Printing Times and Lithographer remarked:

Its literary matter is fully up to the standard of similar compilations: but what we would specially draw attention to is the superior manner in which the work has been got up. It is altogether unlike the ordinary productions of colonial printing offices. The advertisements are displayed in a highly creditable manner, and … bear testimony to the fact that Mr. R.C. Harding, of Hastings-Street, Napier, is a lover of his art, and that his printing office is one that contains an exceptionally good store of jobbing types, ornamental borders, &c.; and what is more, that his workmen know how to use both to advantage. [Harding’s Almanac, 1882, 270]

Without registering the fact that Harding’s Almanac like the later Typo was actually a one-man band, the reviewer’s surprise at the quality of work emanating from a colonial outpost is echoed in comments by the British and Colonial Printer and Stationer: “It is very characteristic of New Zealand enterprise, and quite an achievement, considering the position and condition of the locality in which it has been produced” (Harding’s Almanac, 1882, 266). Both writers share imperialist assumptions about economic, social, and cultural relationships between metropole and periphery based on mere physical geography, yet the Almanac, like Typo, redefines if not collapses this territorial imperative. This is all the more remarkable when we consider that Harding never left New Zealand, even to visit Australia, during his working life. Instead, unlike those epitomes of what David Lambert terms “imperial careering”1 such as Sir George Grey, Mrs Seacole, and Charles Murray, Harding travels an imagined geography of empire mediated through typographic specimens, correspondence, friends, and print.

Once Harding begins to publish Typo, his world both narrows and broadens. On the one hand, apart from some instances of quality jobbing work and printing in Maori, he leaves the mundane world of print to his brother ‘on the hill,’ to his father in the adjacent stationery shop, or to the firm of Dinwiddie, Walker & Co., to whom he sells his copyright in the Almanac. On the other hand, he establishes a thriving business in the exchange and circulation of trade information and becomes a recognized player on the international market. There is no corner of the globe to which his visual sensibility does not extend. And his network expands to include a significant extra-imperial dimension; France, Germany, Denmark, America, Japan, and Russia, all figure in his networked world of print.

Harding also establishes a robust network of trade correspondents throughout New Zealand and the Australian colonies to report on the burning issues of the day: industrial relations, boy labour, sweatshops. He reprints the latest news from trade journals such as the Scottish Typographical Journal, the British and Colonial Printer & Stationer, and various American book trade organs. He profiles the latest technological advancements, large and small, and is not adverse to facilitating the secondhand market for older equipment. Without sharing in the rabid politics of radical unionism, he reasons with his peers about the benefits of unionism and the need to cultivate productive relationships with employers, and speaks eloquently to the commercial and ethical implications of government legislation such as the Press Act. He calls for the establishment of the Master Printers’ Association (1889-90) and the New Zealand Institute of Journalists (1891) of which he is a founding member. Furthermore, he argues for national copyright deposit and standardized international measurement systems for both typefounding and paper manufacture.

Significantly, in a period of disrupted professional training and uninformed aesthetic exuberance, Harding embarks on a series of monthly articles entitled “Design in Typography.” He introduces specific ornamental types from various foundries, whether English, German, or American, provides an overview of their history, and most importantly, demonstrates their use step-by-step in display work. Here we find everything from the orientalist-inflected cuts then in vogue to historiated initials, from the ribbon border to the book border, designed by Harding and put into commercial circulation by the Johnson Brothers of Philadelphia, in 1879.

Like his compadres at the Australasian Typographical Journal, Harding is also very aware of the value of maintaining an historical consciousness and memorializing the trade. He publishes a history of printing in New Zealand and writes his friend William Colenso well and truly into the centre of that narrative. He tracks the careers and colonial lives of various ‘old hands’ and documents their passing. He reports on the death of William Blades, with whom he had corresponded, as significant an event for the trade worldwide as the Caxton quadrecentenary two decades before. Wayzgooses, dinners, reunions and other markers of communal identity are mentioned, albeit briefly. Nor was the production and circulation of information a one-way flow. In addition to sending Typo around the world, in part through his London agents, John Haddon & Co., Harding also contributed reviews to the American journal Inland Printer: that is, until his incisive, balanced, and devastatingly accurate remarks were perceived to damage the reputation of American typefounders who shut him out from further publication.

Unfortunately, like many popular journals of the day, Typo was a victim of its own success: glowingly praised and read to death by the trade, but infrequently purchased. Harding found he could not sustain his typographic enterprise solo. He moved to Wellington, the capital city, in 1890, thinking to resuscitate his business from the consequences of the long depression in the land of urban opportunity. However, his decision turned out to be disastrous. Harding tried to diversify by taking on some large book jobs, entered into partnerships with local printing establishments to spread economic risk, and endeavoured to sustain a typographic aesthetic and practice which was patently uncommercial in a world of global industrialisation. Despite lobbying with the New Zealand Typographical Association to adopt Typo as their official trade journal and thus underwrite its cost, his brainchild became more and more erratic in its publication until it ceased completely in 1897.

But Harding remained very much a presence in Wellington. He was hired by the Government Printing Office as a time-work compositor, then worked at The Evening Post as leader-writer, reviewer, chief corrector and reader and remained a player in the cultural economy of trade memory and practice. He continued to build up a remarkable library, exchanging bibliophilic correspondence and print materials with those significant New Zealand collectors, Thomas Hocken and Alexander Turnbull [a letter to the latter is included in this digital collection]. In linking old world and new, Harding perpetuated the memory of Colenso, whom he termed New Zealand’s Caxton, and guarded his mentor’s artifactual legacy in the form of composing stick, type and blocks for an unpublished Maori edition of Pilgrim’s Progress which were subsequently donated to the Alexander Turnbull Library.

When he died in 1916, Harding was memorialized as “one of the ablest native-born printers and journalists in the Dominion … he simply revelled in intricate and difficult typography … his store of knowledge on remarkably wide range of subjects made him a colleague of exceptional value. His versatility was, indeed, remarkable.”2 Or, as The Triad, New Zealand’s top arts magazine reported, “Mr Harding’s knowledge of type and all connected with it was certainly profound, and up to recently, he was in regular correspondence with typefounders in Leipsic (the home of fine printing), London, Paris and New York. With bookbinders and printers like Zaehsdorf and the De Vinnes, he was on intimate terms.”3

Whether published in Ireland, Scotland, or England, Canada, the United States, or South Africa, Australia or New Zealand, nineteenth-century typographical journals were far more than vehicles for the latest in domestic and international trade news, technical information or wrinkles. They connected journeymen in what the historical geographer Alan Lester has termed the “trans-imperial discourse of colonialism” which produced an “imagined geography of empire” facilitated by an ever-expanding suite of communication technologies. “Materials, people, and above all ideas continually flowed through this [imperial] network. Although, in many respects, Britain was at its hub, the trans-global constitution of the network rendered the boundaries of the imperial ‘centre’ remarkably permeable.”4 Typographic journals, like printing chapels and trade unions, wayzgooses and other social activities, linked memory to place and familiarized the new by evoking nostalgia and continuity. At the same time, the habit of exchanging, reprinting, and circulating repurposed textual material created a distributed network of nodes and links which erased the distinction between centres and margins and fostered a new kind of “globalizing sensibility.”5 Robert Coupland Harding was a key player in this global communication network, putting New Zealand on the international map, and bringing the world beyond our shores into the printing houses, libraries, and homes of this country.

Black and white photograph of the signature of Robert Coupland Harding

Further reading

1 “Imperial Spaces, imperial subjects” in David Lambert & Alan Lester, eds., Colonial Lives across the British Empire: Imperial Careering in the long nineteenth century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 21.

2 The Evening Post , 18 December 1916, 8.

3 George Osborne’s obituary of Robert Coupland Harding, The Triad, January 10, 1917, 65.

4 Alan Lester, “British Settler Discourse and the Circuits of Empire,” History Workshop Journal 54 (2002): 24.

5 Peter Putnis, “The British transoceanic steamship press in nineteenth-century India and Australia: an overview,” Journal of Australian Studies 91 (March 2007): 69-79, 70-1.