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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
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.
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hoard of historical documents.These take many fascinating forms, including ledgers, personal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.