Sunday, January 31, 2016

A Printery in New Zealand

Barry and I have returned from a short visit (well 10 days) to the north island of New Zealand. We had planned it as a circuit breaker a while ago, and it has proven to be just that.

We didn't go far, yet did much.

One of the unexpected highlights was when on a visit to Russell, an historic town, we popped down to an old house and discovered that it had once been a Catholic Mission, had housed a tannery and a printery and that the whole place had been lovingly restored. We joined the tour a few minutes late and then had a ball discovering all about this gorgeous place Pompallier Mission - and the letterpress and book printing that had happened there.

 The tour began downstair with this mammoth press -

 From France, it was built in 1840 and transported half ways cross the world.

Every book, pamphlet and missal printed here, was printed in the Maori language only. No English version, no French, only Maori, and they were all given away.

This chase was set up downstairs. It is a double chase and would have printed eight pages. Here are four set up.

We went outside and learnt all about the tannery - where they treated sheep's hides to make the leather for covering the books. So many fabulous tools and images.

No idea what these were used for, but oh so delightful to look at!

Where you took the fleece off the hide.

Tools for pummelling and softening the leather.

Then it was upstairs to the First Impression room - with a different press. We would call this the proofing area probably where they checked the layout of the chase, checked for typos  and the height  of the type.

A stunner of a press.

Beautiful image of ink and brayer.

Daubers and a chase

Another locked up chase.

Now my favourite part. 

After proofing, taking the first impressions and checking that everything as fine - the chase was then hooked onto this hook and passed back downstairs to the real printing press for production. I loved the notion that a chase with type all locked up could be swung between the floors! I treat mine with kid gloves and much hope.

The room next door was the bindery and there were lots of lovely things there as well.

Quite an impressive book press.

Beautiful cords getting ready for gluing.

Another favourite thing - when each book was printed and ready to bind, they added bay leaves to it to prevent pests and mould. Lovely.

 One of those unexpected and brilliant moments in a holiday. My head has been such that we had actually planned nothing around this break - we had managed to book accommodation and hire a car and that was it. We had no idea what we would see or do and this was an absolute treat of an afternoon.

I have been back in the studio over the weekend - sorting my head, planning and thinking and am hopeful that I will be able to be making again soon. Looking forward to feeling a little bit creative again I must say!


  1. What a perfect-sounding trip. And the photos you took of the printery are absolutely stunning - of course the "subjects" are gorgeous in their own right, but the colors & the sort of moody lighting all come off just beautifully! (I think the printery might be interested in seeing/using them!)

    1. Thanks Lisa - you are too kind! It was a lovely serendipitous visit and I could have spent far longer there!

  2. Sometimes the best vacations are those that are the least planned. I'm glad you and Barry were able to take a break and enjoy time away. What a treasure of a day. Enjoy!

    1. The break was good J - have returned thinking a bit more clearly and able to focus a bit more. It was an absolutely delightful find and a great way to while way an afternoon.

  3. A much needed change of scenery Fiona and what a joy to find this place, perfect for you! I love some of those photographs, especially the one with the daubers and the chase. Even better is learning about bay leaves and mould. That is a new one on me so I shall try and find out more about the practice. Maybe it's something to do with heat and humidity in your part of the globe and perhaps paper suffered because of it? An interesting thing to chase up (no pun intended...)

    1. It was a lovely bit of respite - no thinking, no responsibilities and then this magical place! I could have spent hours more photographing and investigating, but really enjoyed what we managed. The bay leaves were an eye opener for me - and worthy of investigation me thinks. Go well.

  4. what a fine treat for you. the shop, the whole thing (especially the chase delivery system) is fantastic.


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