Print museum patiently handcrafted

Last updated 11:12 28/01/2013

Presidential press: Printing Museum president Bill Nairn operates the Albion hand press, which printed the first issue of The Evening Post in 1865.

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The Wellingtonian

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The information superhighway used to be hand- cranked back when the Evening Post started in 1865.

Pages would drip out of the newspaper's hand-press printer at a rate of 200 an hour.

But Bill Nairn, of Hutt Valley, said even at 19th century speeds, printing was a vital part of communication for colonial New Zealand.

Mr Nairn spoke to The Wellingtonian as regional printing group The Printing Museum looks ahead to a promising 2013, after decades of planning for a real home.

A planned museum looks tantalisingly close, with the Department of Conservation considering a concession for the group to operate at Queen Elizabeth Park in Kapiti.

Mr Nairn said the museum would be a "very large" 865-square-metre building with an area dedicated to newspaper history, including the old printer.

"We've got the original Evening Post hand-press that they used in 1865."

There will be a large printing section with general printing history, a binding section, and an area for special displays.

At a cost of $500,000, the museum will come at a hefty price for the group. It need to raise money for the new base, sited near the park's MacKay's Crossing entrance.

Until a museum is created, the group stores its printing machinery in an old Ministry of Defence building in Upper Hutt.

"That was a mammoth job, I'm telling you, to shift them [there]," Mr Nairn said.

"The presses probably go up to four tonnes, the old linotype is a tonne, in the corner. It's all heavy stuff. You don't want to shift it too often."

Mr Nairn worked at the Evening Post till the 1980s, when he realised that hot metal presses were on the way out. He then went to work for the old printing trade union.

"The people who set up the printing museum [group] contacted us for a subscription. I heard about it in 1986 and that's how it started."

Mr Nairn worked on the linotype machines at the Evening Post - technology dating back to the 19th century that allowed lines of words to be cast in metal for printing.

The group's hand-press dates back to the 19th century as well - but is in working order.

Next up in the evolution of printers in New Zealand is a type of "stop cylinder" press, which the group also has an example of.

"It's hand-fed. You feed the paper in, but it prints at about 2000 [pages] an hour as against 200 an hour for the hand press."

The group's most modern press, an automatic cylinder press, can print about 5000 pages an hour. Off-set presses commonly used for newspapers today run about twice as fast.

Speed, however, has not been part of the process of finding a home for the museum.

Mr Nairn said the group had been trying since 1986.

"We've tried all sorts of ideas. We've published a list of all the various projects that haven't worked."

Having a home for the museum would be fitting, given the importance of printing presses in New Zealand's settler history, he said.

"It was hugely important in the early colonial days because that was the only medium of communication. [In] every little town and village, one of the first things that somebody did was set up a print shop."

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An incredible number of newspapers were set up between 1865 and 1890, he said.

"Of course, most of them didn't survive."

- The Wellingtonian


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