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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