Kwong Wah Printing Company – traditional letterpress printing – vanishing HK trades
Mary Anne Le Bas has sent an SCMP article, Six home-grown Hong Kong trades at risk of dying out, published on 21st June 2015. The fourth of these is about the last remaining letterpress company in Hong Kong. Between the 1970s and 90s there were over 200 such companies around Sheung Wan and Central. All of these have now closed or replaced their letterpresses with automatic machines. Kwong Wah is the only one still operating.
The article begins: Yam Wai-sang runs the Kwong Wah Printing Company, in Sheung Wan. The company specialises in letterpress printing – a traditional technique of relief printing. The letterpress uses small lead rods, each with a raised letter or character on the end. These are arranged in a frame by hand, locked in place, daubed with ink and pressed onto paper. The technology is now obsolete because the last Hong Kong company to make the letters closed in 1993.
“My father worked in the printing industry and I’ve been doing this job all my life.
“It’s a slow process because you have to figure out how to space the letters and words, and how to line the words up with each other. Arranging the letterpresses for a business card takes about an hour. My letterpresses are old and many have been eroded with years of use. I have to add scraps of paper underneath to ensure they’re all the same height – so now it takes even longer!
“Letterpress printing has a glorious history in Hong Kong. Between the 70s and 90s there were over 200 letterpress companies around Sheung Wan and Central. They served the local trading companies, printing their office stationery and contracts.
“All those [letterpress] companies have now closed or replaced their letterpresses with automatic machines. I’m the only one still operating. The new machines are quicker and cheaper, and allow you to print different colours on the same document. But I love the traditional letterpress print. You can feel the raised ink with your fingers, so it’s full of vitality…”
See: Six home-grown Hong Kong trades at risk of dying out SCMP 21st June 2015
This article was first posted on 4th June 2016.
Related Indhhk articles:
- Nam Wah Ink Company
- Nam Wah Ink Company – Wellington Street shop closure SCMP March 2014
- The Hong Kong Printing Press – Pedro D’Alcantara Xavier (1886-1952)
- Delfino Noronha – HK Government printer and operator of the first HK Island-Kowloon ‘Ferry’
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