Ink Herbarium, 1500 x 3200 Nature print on cotton. Ferns collected in Taranaki 2019.
Groundwork at The Barrel Store, Corban Estate Arts Centre.
Photos by Emily Parr
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!
A couple of weeks ago we finished printing ‘I am like your grammar’ by Lisa Samuels and I was able to hand over copies. I really love this photo because usually there’s just a quick process of handing over the printing. But I was able to spend some time with Lisa as she saw the print for the first time.
I had a really great time printing this one. Lisa’s poetry opens up so many opportunities and my initial ideas for the design completely changed as the print developed. More pictures below of the print and the design and printing process.
Early in April I printed one of my poems – waterlines – at MOTAT. I designed and handset it, and it was printed on a Heidelberg Platen by Ian Barnes. It is a limited edition of 37 copies which I am selling to fundraise for a number of photopolymer plates for some other letterpress poetry projects I have coming up.
I’m selling the prints for $10 (a total bargain for a letterpress art print!) plus postage. Get in touch if you’d like a copy.
Thank you to New Zealand Pacific Studios; this poem began while I was staying at Normandel House as the Ema Saikō fellow in Nov/Dec last year.
For the last 6 years I have been sneaking poetry pieces into the print queue in the MOTAT Print Shop. Well at first I was sneaking them in, but as time as gone on, the poetry we print has become a big part of what we do in the Print Shop. Last Friday saw the opening of an exhibition that celebrates those works we have printed. The exhibition is also about the Māori typecase I have been working on for the last 18 months, and showcases the ‘Kia ora Te Reo’ booklet we made this year for Māori language week.
The opening was a real treat, our guests were a mixture of Auckland based poets and poetry lovers alongside the MOTAT team who had a hand in putting the show together. It was a huge team effort and I was honoured to have my design and typesetting on show.
Here are a few photos from the opening event:
So this is my initial design, well, it’s about the fourth design so far – but it’s the initial design before trying to set type with it.
I originally wanted to leave as many letters in the same place as in the NZ Printing Museum lay. But, in the end, having the ‘g’ so far away from the ‘n,’ just doesn’t make sense.
But I have kept the uppercase in alphabetical order.* And I have kept the vowels in place, and moved whatever was next to them to allow for the tōhuto (macron) version.
A wee quandary I am having about what to include, punctuation wise, is the ampersand. As someone who loves printing, is interested in typography, as well as someone who is interested in mark making and the forms of lines, I LOVE the ampersand. But is it needed in te reo Māori? There are so many ways of saying ‘and’ for different contexts, that a single ampersand doesn’t really cut it. And the ampersand is also a symbol for a whole word, rather than a sound. Perhaps it can be used in place of ‘me’ as ‘and’ or ‘with’ when listing? I’m not sure. Any thoughts from fluent speakers would be very welcome!!
* I wonder what order the alphabet would be in if it had been designed by Māori?
This week, in honour of te wiki o te reo Māori, I have begun a project that will enable me to letterpress print in te reo Māori.
Of course, I could print in Māori now, but there are no macrons and the typecase layout is not ideal for setting in Māori. So many of the letters and symbols are entirely superfluous, and there aren’t enough letters of the ones I do need, (especially w and k).
I am currently researching William Colenso, who was NZ’s first printer,* and his work. Primarily I am looking at the first few years after he arrived in the Bay of Plenty and the Printery he set up there as part of the Church Missionary Society (CMS). When Colenso arrived in late 1834, the orthography had only recently been decided by a panel of missionaries. Early spelling had Waikato look like Wykatoo. The new alphabet had only 13 letters (15 when you include the diagraphs ng and wh, which you should when you’re thinking of the Māori language, but 13 when thinking about letterpress). The CMS was pretty lacklustre in setting Colenso up with proper printing supplies and didn’t send him any typecases at all, just loose metal type. These two issues instigated a new Māori specific type layout.
Colenso designed type cases specific to his task to print the bible i te reo Māori and had them constructed by a carpenter in Russel. He combined regular and italic into the same tray, but upper and lowercase were separate. This split layout was used for bookwork and longer texts in the 1800s. A ‘Job Case’ which combines the upper and lower case didn’t become common until late in the 19th century and then they were only used for smaller jobs and housed smaller founts.**
Job cases are what is in common use today. Most of the trays I use are in the New Zealand Printing Museum lay out, though I do also use the California Job case. Both are standards for New Zealand. These two images of these layouts are oddly proportioned but they are in fact the same shape, and the structure of the actual wooden case is the same.
I have decided to alter one of the standard job cases for use in setting Māori. This is for a number of reasons.
1. The shape of Colenso’s cases wouldn’t fit into the type cabinets I already use.
2. Job cases are what is used in contemporary printing, rather than separate upper and lower case cases.
3. I want a layout design that specifically makes room for the new letters that I am getting cast at the Printing Museum foundry in Wellington – each of the five vowels with tohutō (macrons) in both upper and lower case.
So on Sunday, I set about removing some of the cross bars to make for larger sections for the type seeing as I don’t need so many letters and each of the letters I do need, I’ll use more of. There are more w’s in Māori than in Pākehā English for example.
The wood was far harder and tougher than I expected and the nails at each juncture just wouldn’t come out. So in the end I employed some barbaric hacking at it to remove the parts I didn’t want. So some sanding is now in order.
I am yet to confirm my exact new design, but it is coming along nicely and I will post that up when it is closer to being finalised. But I do think the final say of the design will come down to how good it is to set type from!
E hiamo ana au mo tēnei kaupapa.
* William Yate was sort of technically the first printer, but he was so shit at it that people disregard him entirely.
** or fonts, if you like – a fo(u)nt is a complete collection of type, all the bits, not just the design (which is a typeface). There is some argument about the contemporary uses of these terms, but to my mind, when talking about letterpress, these terms are useful when understood in this way.
*** Layout images sourced from http://www.alembicpress.co.uk/Alembicprs/SELCASE.HTM