There are a number of museums around the country that showcase letterpress printing and some exhibit old newspaper shops. The Georgia Weekly Newspaper Museum is a little unique in that it is an intact newspaper shop in the same location where a newspaper first began in the community in 1888. In addition, most of the equipment in the museum is original to the site.
The building here was built around 1900, replacing an earlier newspaper building at the site. The foundry type and letterpress equipment in the building dates from around 1900 to 1930.
The Banks County Journal, the weekly newspaper that was published at this site starting in 1888 (under another name), continued to be printed here by letterpress until October 1969. At that time, it converted to offset printing and was published by a nearby newspaper firm until it folded in a 1987 merger. However, the original letterpress equipment was never discarded and remains in the building.
The term “letterpress” describes the actual printing process that was invented by Gutenberg in 1455 and used until offset printing replaced it in the 1960s and 1970s.
Essentially, letterpress printing is the use of metal (sometimes wood) letters formed into words and sentences. That is then locked into a form and put on a press where ink is applied to the metal letters. The press then imprints sheets of paper onto the inked letters, creating the actual printed page. In the early years, the type was set by hand, one letter at a time. The Linotype automated that process but even so, letterpress printing remained very labor intensive.
For more information about the letterpress printing process, click here.
For most small town weekly newspapers, publishing a newspaper was just part of its work. Most also did commercial printing on smaller “job” presses to supplement revenue. These were items such as printed envelopes, letterheads, tickets, forms and receipts.This museum has two job presses that were used for such printing work here in Banks County, Georgia.
During the early years, the newspaper was printed on a Washington iron hand press. The hand press in the museum isn’t original to the site, but is very similar to the one that was used there from 1888 to 1900.
Around 1900, the large Campbell Country Press was installed. This larger press, which printed two pages at a time, could be powered by hand, or by a belt drive. Until electricity came to the community in the late 1930s, the belt drive was powered by a gas or diesel engine. It drove a shaft in the middle of the building from which a belt extended to the press. An electric motor replaced the gas motor in the early 1940s.
The inside of the building today is very much like it was over the last century. Kerosene lanterns and sunlight were the original sources of light. The main difference today is that the building is air-conditioned. Historically, the building would have been very hot in the summer months with only open windows for airflow. Because paper was being handled, fans weren’t used in the production areas since they would blow the paper around. With the mix of inks, solvents and sweat smells, the building would have had a rather strong odor on hot days. In cold weather, the building was heated by a potbellied stove burning coal.
The building was also crowded with equipment and the walking and working areas were tight.