For a Sunday morning the music was loud. It was just as loud as it had been the last two nights, both of which were spent disregarding my liver on Nashville’s Broadway Street (think New Orleans with cowboy boots and lots of fiddle). After labouring through a breakfast of pulled pork and bbq ribs, I swear it’s all they serve, I convinced my unshaven party of misfits to check out a print shop.
But this just wasn’t any old print shop. This was Hatch Show Print, one of the oldest and still operating print shops in America. Established in 1879 by the Hatch Brothers, Hatch Show Print has been successfully printing posters for the southern entertainment industry for well over a century. From Vaudeville to Negro League Baseball, Elvis Presley to Chuck Berry, entertainment history was put to paper on the Hatch presses. Saturday had marked the 135th birthday party but if you didn’t know any better you’d guess the place just opened its doors. And in a way you’d be right.
In October 2013, the print shop left it’s lower Broadway Street location and moved in to the brand new Country Music Hall of Fame. The new space includes a large print shop where visitors can watch the presses in action, a design store where you can buy reprints of broadside posters from throughout the 20th century, the Carl and Connie Haley Gallery and the Space for Design, a classroom space where groups can watch demonstrations and learn about moveable type, inking up and all things letterpress.
Being Sunday it was no surprise that the presses were off for the day, so some guys only took a quick look and slinked back to the hotel. But for a typophile there was plenty of eye candy to whet the appetite, like over 100 posters for sale in the design store. I had already accepted that I was buying something, the problem was making a choice. A B.B. King poster from a cross Canada tour was a surprising find but I decided on a Hank Williams linocut print that was inspiration for the bachelor party t-shirts I had made. I also grabbed a handy measurement conversion chart for my partner’s kitchen.
Even though the presses were off we could still see where the magic happens.
The size of the press below was bigger than any letterpress I've seen. I imagine it would take two people to carry the lockup and get it on the press bed.
The real show stopper was the Haley Gallery. Featuring restrikes of historic Hatch posters as well the “monoprints” of Master Printer Jim Sherraden, the prints could be purchased for prices ranging from $150-800. One of my favourites was a monoprint called “TYPE”, made by overprinting giant 3 feet tall woodblock letters. The font was carved in the late 19th century and still remains intact, minus the letter ‘H’.
As of this writing, the gallery is hosting the National Poster Retrospecticus, a travelling show of more than 300 hand-printed posters from poster designers across the United States.
Most people probably visit Nashville for the music, boots and barbecue but I’d bet if they visit Hatch Show Print they’ll come away with a new appreciation for the history of American poster design and the craft of letterpress. For those of you who would go to Nashville specifically for the print shop, you’ll leave with a couple poster tubes, a little less cash and a lot of pride knowing this part of graphic design is not only being preserved but appreciated. Just try your best to not visit the morning after a late night on Broadway street, your head will thank you.
You can buy Hatch prints and other design treasures online at http://store.countrymusichalloffame.com/categories/Hatch-Show-Print/