I'm very excited! I recently had the opportunity to purchase the contents of a composing room from a small family run printers in the North East. It had been in business since c.1880 and had lasted all the way until 2014. Always run by the family, passed down from generation to generation and remaining firmly in the same corner of the square in the same town. Sadly like a lot of small traditional printing businesses the decision was taken to wind down the business in 2013.
I went up to take a look at it all in early December. It was a pleasure to meet the family and have a tour of the print shop. The composing room had remained pretty much unchanged for the last 100 years apart from some of the wooden racks had been replaced with more modern steel racks sometime in the 1960's. The composing room was situated on the first floor above an old Stationary shop that was also run by the family. All the letterpress printing was carried on two Heidelberg Platens which had been run pretty much constantly and without problems for over 50 years, before that there was huge old proofing press that was run on gas. Everything was squeezed into impossibly tight spaces and how they removed the Heidelbergs without demolishing a wall is beyond me.
In the composing room there were 8 half size cabinets consisting of around 20 cases each of metal type, all immaculately ordered, minimal signs of wear and well cared for. A cabinet of wood type sat in the corner, unused for 40 years, loads of blocks, a galley rack, furniture, and everything else a composing room needs.
Without giving it too much thought I said I would take it all. It was only on the long drive back down to London that I started thinking about the logistics of moving so much type in one go. We estimated that the whole lot must have weighed around 5 tonnes, no wonder they had been hounded by scrap metal merchants desperate to weigh in all the type!
In the end I opted to play it safe and got a local removal firm to move it all for me but only as far as York. So as it stands at moment I have the entire contents of a composing room sat in one of my parents shed. I don't have the space to store it in London at the moment and the cost of transporting it all as far as London would have been huge, but the main thing is it's mine and safe from being melted down!
When we moved it all out of the room some of the cabinets hadn't been moved for a century and the walls behind had been papered with old newspaper from the late 1800's and was a remarkable sight. The wooden floors were bowed so much from carrying all the weight for so many years, in hindsight I wish I captured the whole thing on film.
So what next? Some of it over time will end up being sold on here and on eBay - I need to try and recuperate some of my costs as it ended up being a rather pricey purchase but a lot of it I will keep for myself - one thing is for sure non of it will be be scrapped or wasted. Hopefully all of it will go on to see many many years of active printing again in one way or another.
More to follow on this topic soon..