Colenso’s Curios

Today I am at the Alexander Turnbull Library to see some printing ‘curios’ that belonged or were used by William Colenso in the 1830s.

The Type – I was surprised by the state of the type.
Generally ordinary, largely very clear distinct lines, no visible ink residue, discoloured black
But, I pulled out single piece, a capital A, significant damage of the ‘stem’ or ‘bulk’ of the piece of type, if not a disintegration, more likely a defect in the type casting or an anomaly in the metal composition.

This made me very nervous that it might break in half- that thought in mind and having to feel the type through gloves – it felt more vulnerable / fragile that I expected.

The nick is still visible below the defect. A curved nick as expected (angular nicks came later).

This was the only piece out of the properly packed type that I looked at.

Are all the pieces just like this?
Was this just dud type that Colenso never/barely used?
Did it only feel delicate because I wore gloves?
How low is the lead content? Usually 50-60% for handset type, is this defect more likely in higher or lower percentage lead type?
Did the type actually belong to Colenso? Afterall, all the type Colenso used belonged to the Church Missionary Society. But Robert Harding received all of Colenso’s type ‘curios’ that were in Colenso’s possession when he died. Perhaps this was type Colenso aquired after his employment with the CMS had finished. Or perhaps he took the type with him when he left for Gisborne. From Harding’s account, we know Colenso took his cases with him to Gisborne.

Other than this properly packed box of type that I couldn’t get a proper look at, there was also an additional assortment of unsorted type. The type is much later, with lots of variation in nick shape, number, depth and style.  There was also some brass rule, leading and three image blocks.

I got the most excitement out of Colenso’s composing stick:

That’s my hand holding Colenso’s comp stick. We can be more definitive about composing sticks than we can about type. If this is Colenso’s comp stick, and I believe it is, then it is almost 200 years old. Comp sticks are personal. Colenso likely learned to compose on this stick in Cornwall. He brought it here in 1834, we know this from Colenso’s own account. It is unlikely he ever had another. And so this comp stick was used to handset the print versions of He Whakaputanga and Te Tiriti.

The magic of the archive!

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Filed under letterpress, Non-Fiction Interest, Printmaking, Typography

Te haerenga tuatahi ki Tongaporutu: an exhibition

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15/07/2019 · 10:00 pm

Printing Namecall by Rachael Naomi

We completed the print of Rachael Naomi’s ‘Namecall’ today. It was printed with a mixture of wood type, metal type, and a photopolymer plate. It was printed on the Heidelberg Platen. The type was printed in a hand mixed green/teal ink last weekend and the photopolymer plate was printed today. The paper is a hefty 300gsm and so we’ve given it quite the debossing which is of course a little hard to see in photos.


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Sail | Walk | Drown

Last year Michele Leggott, Betty Davis, Ruby Porter and I wrote a radio play based on the Emily Harris archival material we’ve been working with. This year we recorded it, and today it’s available for you to listen to online!

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Museums Aotearoa Service IQ Awards

I joined the MOTAT team at the Museums Aotearoa Service IQ Awards ceremony on Wednesday 22nd May. MOTAT was shortlisted for FIVE awards!

One of those awards was ‘Kia toi te reo’ or ‘most innovative use of te reo Māori’, for the He whakaritenga hou exhibition at the Walsh Memorial Library Nov 2017 – Mar 2018. This exhibition showcased a number of the poetry letterpress works we’ve printed in The Print Shop as well as my typecase design for the Māori alphabet. (See also Letterpress i te reo Māori, Case Layout mō te tātai reta Māori and Talking about te reo Māori and letterpress)

We didn’t win – but being shortlisted as a finalist and acknowledged eloquently in te reo Māori at the awards was win enough!

MOTAT did win Exhibition Excellence Science and Technology for the exhibition Accelerate: Driving New Zealand. Very well deserved!

Here we are with the award and finalist certificates and some odd facial expressions

Todd Dixon, Alba Letts, Steven Fox, Michael Frawley, Makyla Curtis


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Filed under Events, letterpress

soft copy update 1

Needed to leave the prints done with Betty on the 4th April to dry, set between paper. Unveiled them again today and very excited to move onto the next stage

It’s so cellular; the DNA forms might be a point of intersection between those forms and the text forms

language as the DNA of a place

cellular diagrams that has words wrapped up in mitochodria

I wonder how it would work with muka fibres from the harakeke

And unprocessed wool fibres

Printing the fibres of a place.

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Letterpress collab with Andrea Rivas

In 2016, Mexican poet Andrea Rivas translated 3 of my poems into Spanish for a Mexican Spanish language online poetry journal Circulo de Poesia. We’ve stayed in touch and last year I asked her for some poems in English to ‘translate’ into letterpress. I wanted to return the favour.

Today I began setting and designing three short poems Andrea sent me. Working in Univers Condensed 14pt, bold and medium, and an unidentified wooden typeface.

The design is process driven. An overall idea is based on copy received from the poet. After that each decision is decided in turn, each based on the one before and the type and equipment available in the print room. The final design was completely different from the initial drawing.

The next step is a proof and then adding the work to the print queue. It will be printed on the Heidelberg Platen in two colours. Paper and colours yet to be decided – decision will be based on proof prints.

Photos of the process (including a mishap with a rude and handsy customer destroying all of the work) has been posted on instagram as a way to keep Andrea within the loop of the collaboration. A proof print will be sent to her (especially since I made a line break change to accommodate handsetting constraints of 25 picas).


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printing timber

A piece of Australian Yellow pine from Charles.

To print

On fabric

A landscape. Printing wood – a print of the place it came from. The place that it is.

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Mark and Process wk 3

More mark making, this time with charcoal, ink, and more clay slip.

Thinking about gesture and movement, the traces thereof, mapping – the leaving behind of traces acting as a map of that movement.

An enduring mark (or not!) left in or on a solid surface by a continuous movement. Traces additive or reductive. (Ingold, Lines p43)  In this instance certainly additive.

wide charcoal gesture

charcoal dust and Vaseline

the movement of ink – making its own map

a return to the dyed clay slip with ink

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soft copy – collab with Betty Davis

The thread as a trace. Ingold describes the thread and the trace as the two key aspects of lines. In soft copy, Betty and I are looking at the thread as a trace, drawing with threads rather than leaving behind a trace and yet still leaving behind a trace.

The first lot of printing is done. We printed 40 pieces, all of them entirely different even though we used a process. 8 thread prints per book, 5 copies.

We developed a process, a constraint which helped to rein in possibilities and simultaneously expand them: 3 prints would have a single thread, 3 prints would have 2 threads, and the last two of each book was a mass of many threads. The single and double threads emphasised the line made by the thread whereas the the mass of threads gives a different sense of depth with many shapes and shades.

Forced to relinquish control of the thread. At certain steps the thread could be encouraged in certain ways, but in other ways the thread would not be forced, and pushing it in certain directions would disrupt the inking and therefore the final print.

Process pics (pics of the prints for later):


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