An education in letterpress : from apprentice to design student

Cooper, Alex, Gridneff, Rose and Haslam, Andrew (2017) An education in letterpress : from apprentice to design student. In: From Craft to Technology and Back Again : Print's Progress in the Twentieth Century; 30 - 31 Mar 2017, Dublin, Ireland. (Unpublished)


Throughout the twentieth century, the teaching of letterpress was organised through training centres in technical colleges and art and design schools. This paper is developed from research that seeks to plot all existing institutions with functioning letterpress workshops within the UK & Ireland. The Guide to Educational Courses for the Printing Industry produced by the Printing and Publishing Industry Training Board in 1969, together with a list believed to be compiled by Beatrice Warde held in the Charles Pickering Archive at London College of Communication, itemise a total of 110 colleges. The research seeks to identify which workshops remain, and the nature of their use. We have, at present, located 40 workshops that exist within their original institutions or are to be found within later incarnations. The majority have evolved through a series of educational and technological changes. The research involves systematically visiting all workshops: identifying and cataloguing the type, equipment and presses. The development of this catalogue will enable the constuction of a national record of all the equipment and typefaces within further and higher education. The research seeks to document the layout of the workshops through orthographic drawings that serve as a physical representation of the space. This primary field research enables us to open a dialogue with staff responsible for contemporary practice. Today nearly all of the apprentice trained compositors working as technical staff responsible for the letterpress workshops have retired. We have entered a period where letterpress practice continues with a resurgence of interest, but is not in the hands of anyone who has learnt their trade through the apprenticeship tradition. A younger generation of staff have appropriated college workshop spaces to reinvigorate letterpress values informed by their own educational experience of design.

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