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Friday, June 14, 2013

Robert Smail's Printing Works, Innerleithen, Scotland - A complete working Victorian jobbing printery

R. Smail & Sons Printing Works
While researching several upcoming articles on historical topics, I ran across the following rare and impressive resource in Scotland:

Robert Smail and Sons was a family business of jobbing printers that operated for three generations in Innerleithen (population 2,586, an hour’s drive south of Edinburgh in the Scottish Borders).  

After a successful run of 120 years from 1866 to 1986, the business closed.  Then the National Trust for Scotland took over the property and still maintains it today as a functioning letterpress shop that still produces commercial printing jobs, including some of the National Trust’s own printed materials.  At the same time, the shop also functions as a living museum, giving visitors the opportunity to see and try their hand at letterpress printing and typesetting.

Setting type
The Smail family’s legacy comprises not only their shop and equipment but also a massive hoard of historical documents.  These take many fascinating forms, including ledgers, personal correspondence, volumes of the St. Ronan’s Standard and Effective Advertiser.(the weekly newspaper the Smails produced for 23 years starting in 1893), 1/4-inch glass plate negatives, and 52 guard books containing everything the print shop ever printed.  (The law required printers to keep a copy of every job for six months, but the Smails did it for nearly 100 years.)  Other records include passenger tickets showing local patterns of immigration to the United States, Canada and South Africa.

Since 2006 until the present a seven-person team of staff and volunteers has been labouring to catalogue and index this archive of documents and make it available on line.