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April 27, 2017

Conference on twentieth century printing history

A full report on this conference is included in Printing History News No 54.

On 30 and 31 March 2017 the Printing Historical Society, the Centre for Printing History and Culture and The National Print Museum, Dublin, organised a conference on twentieth century printing history entitled From craft to technology and back again: print’s progress in the twentieth century. The conference was hosted by the National Print Museum in Dublin.

During the twentieth century the printing industry underwent considerable change as it shifted from a craft-based trade to a technology-led profession, largely as a result of three major revolutions. In the composing room there was a move from hand- to machine composition followed by photo-setting and finally digital means of letter assembly; while in the press room printers experienced a shift from letterpress to off-set lithography and latterly digital methods of production.

These revolutions initiated both organisational and structural changes: compositors moved out of the printing office and re-located to trade typesetting houses; printers concentrated wholly on graphic reproduction and presswork; whilst design was undertaken by professional typographers working in private practice, remote from the trade typesetters or printing office. Change brought new methods of management into the industry and old grievances surfaced which often resulted in unrest, marking the twentieth century as an era of industrial disputes with the rise and demise of the print unions.

Education and training were seen as necessary in the management of change, with the advent of formal education for printers and the emergence of school-trained professional typographic designers who assumed a defined and prominent role in the preparation of printed products, which showcased typographic trends and new modes of graphic communication.

External factors also affected the industry including political upheaval, two world wars, fluctuating economies, international competition, politics and changing social values all impacted on print’s progress.

However, the end of the twentieth century also saw a revival of interest in craft techniques and an increase in the number of printers who chose not to be taken over by technology but held to older methods of production in order to satisfy a rising alternative market of customers seeking tradition and craft.

The programme was as follows:


GUEST SPEAKERProfessor Michael Twyman (University of Reading), Industrial photogravure: its influence on design 1920–50

Caroline Archer, Just like last time only better: a review of IPEX; Jürgen Bönig, who changed print? Gains and losses; Chris Hill, Printers and press freedom in modern Britain; Daryl Lim, From metal type to typewriter: case of the Plebeian newspaper in 1963; Pouya Jahanshahi, Harmony and discord: the visual language of Iranian graphic design; Patrick Goossens, The psychological profile of the Monotype caster; Katherine Walter, Letters in the light, the advent of photosetting as a new hybrid media technology; Trond Klevgaard, A reconsideration of narratives of New Typography in graphic design history, seen from the perspective of the Scandinavian printing trade.

PRINTERS’ QUESTION TIME – Chair: Anne Brady; Panel: Mary Plunkett, Gloria Kondrup, David Steele, Sean Sills.


Dermot McGuinne, From Colum Cille to Colmcille; Stephen Hoskins, The graphic screen print; John-Daniel Harrington, Form follows technology—the effects of type making technologies on type forms; Alex Cooper, Rose Gridneff, Andrew Haslam, An education in letterpress: from apprentice to design student; Gordon Johnson, The Eleventh edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica: an early twentieth-century example of disturbance in printing and publishing; Jessica Glaser, Beatrice Warde, May Lamberton Becker and Books Across the Sea; Robin Fuller, Uppercase, 1958–1961: British Typography in transition; Niall McCormack, Hiding in plain sight: Irish commercial label art, an overlooked letterpress aesthetic; Angela Griffith, Elizabeth Yeats, ‘art printing’ and the Cuala Press.

The members of the organising committee were: Professor Caroline Archer (Centre for Printing History & Culture); Anne Brady (National Print Museum, Dublin); Francis Cave (Printing Historical Society); Dr Christopher Hill (Centre for Printing History & Culture); Dr John Hinks (Printing Historical Society); Carla Marrinan (National Print Museum, Dublin); Sean Sills (National Print Museum, Dublin)

Posted by Francis Cave at April 27, 2017 11:45 AM