‘Preservation through production’ keeps letterpresses running at Hatch Show Print

The Nashville shop is marking its 138th birthday this year.
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Wall of posters available for purchase in Hatch’s retail store.

Ubiquitous construction cranes betray the undeniable fact that Music City is a modern boomtown, by some estimates adding 80 new residents each day.

Yet like any great city, Nashville is special for its rich history. Ryman Auditorium, opened in 1892, continues to host concerts, including two shows by Shovels and Rope while my family was there in mid-February.

The John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge opened in 1909, the first bridge in North America to have concrete arched trusses. Although closed to vehicular traffic in 1998, the bridge, like the Ryman, survived talk of demolition and today connects downtown with Nissan Stadium, home to the NFL’s Tennessee Titans, across the Cumberland River.

Only blocks away from the bridge, a red-brick former trolley barn is home to Pinewood Social, a wide-open restaurant and bar that happens to have a six-lane vintage bowling alley in the back.

But nothing made as big an impression on me — pun intended, although I wasn’t the one who used it with our tour guides — as Hatch Show Print. Simply put, Hatch is a working museum, a letterpress poster shop that has been operating since 1879, adhering to the motto, “Preservation through production.”

Hatch’s first print job actually was a handbill promoting an appearance by the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, brother of the better known Harriet Beecher Stowe.

‘Hatch got the job done’

Hatch’s golden age, according to its website, was from the mid-1920s to 1952 and mirrored that of country music.

“Show posters created the excitement that sold the show, covering the sides of buildings and barns in cities and towns throughout the country. Whether circus, minstrel show, vaudeville act, or carnival, if you wanted to fill seats, Hatch got the job done.”

From 1952 to 1992, Hatch was behind Ryman Auditorium, aka “The mother church of country music” and the former long-time home of the Grand Ole Opry.

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View into the production area, shelves of moveable type visible on the far wall.

Hands on

Since 2013, Hatch has operated in the lobby of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum building. Hatch comprises four distinct spaces: production shop, gallery, design and workshop (where tour-goers got to try our hands with a small letterpress run), and retail space filled with incredible posters and merchandise.

Letterpress is truly hands-on, from conception to completion. Wooden and metal letters and hand-carved images are locked into a press as a reverse image of what the final poster will look like and then inked. Sheets of paper, one at a time, are pressed onto the ink, transferring the image.

Anyone can place an order with Hatch — turnaround times vary — at a minimum quantity of 100 posters measuring a maximum size of 14 inches by 22 inches. Besides a $50 set-up fee, pricing is based on the number of colors: $4.75 per poster for one color, $5.95 for two colors, $6.95 for three colors.

Hatch has branched out, too, lending its talents to everything from CD, DVD and book cover designs to ice cream cartons.

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Me, thrilled with having the opportunity to apply red ink to a Hatch Show mini-poster.

“As letterpress printers & designers, our goal is to protect this one-of-a-kind nonrenewable resource of type and imagery,” according to Hatch’s price guide.

Hatch truly is one of a kind, unlike those many cranes on Nashville’s skyline.

 

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