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