Letterpress lives on with Hatch Show Print

Hatch Show Print offers visitors a look not only at an historical part of country music history but a chance to visit the most famous letterpress operation in the nation. A great piece in the Tennessean looks into the business of running 19th Century technology in a time of computer-generated type and PDFs.

It seems that Hatch Show Print, which has cranked out posters advertising country music since the days of Jimmie Rodgers, fell on hard times and was sold to Opryland, USA, a precursor of Gaylord Entertainment. In 1992, Gaylord gave Hatch to the Country Music Foundation (probably getting a big tax write-off in the process) and Hatch moved to its current location on Broadway. More foot traffic bought more sales, but, according to writer Naomi Snyder, “since the Country Music Foundation acquired the shop from Gaylord Entertainment Co. in 1992, Hatch Show Print managed to make a profit only during the past four years.”

I always duck into Hatch Show Print whenever I’m on Broadway–my uncles worked in printing all their lives and I love letterpress–but there are a couple of things the place could do to enhance its income. First, drive up I-40 to Knoxville and spend some time with Yee Haw Industries. This shop, under the artistic direction of Kevin Bradley (no relation to me, although I’d be proud to claim him) has taken letterpress in wonderfully new directions.

Many of the Hatch Show Prints appear to be more of an homage to the shop’s earlier work than an exploration of what letterpress can do in the 21st Century. Naomi Snyder describes the work of a Hatch employee named Mary Louise Sullivan, then adds “Sullivan had to walk down the block to FedEx Kinko’s to digitally send photos of the proofs to CNN. There is no computer on Sherraden’s wooden desk, which is covered with letters and paperwork. Anyone who wants to order something needs to send a fax, not an e-mail.”

This is nuts. You can honor letterpress without being Luddites. I hope Hatch Show Print continues to bring the look and feel delights of letterpress to people for a long time to come.

This blog is part of a much larger website, also entitled Tennessee Guy, that contains travel and cultural information about Tennessee. Visit it here.

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