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The Hatch Show Print exhibition ran during the summer of 2005. We have a few remaining Hatch posters; please inquire at the store.



hatchhorse.jpg Since the late 19th century, Hatch Show Print has been an American institution, providing their bold, colourful and unique graphics to entertainers of all sorts. While their first clients consisted of vaudeville, circus, and minstrel shows, they helped to define the look of country music, designing posters for such country music Hall of Famers as Bill Munroe, Johnny Cash, and Hank Williams. But their influence stretch far beyond the borders of any one genre, as they also developed posters for Elvis Presley, Duke Ellington, and BB King. According to manager Jim Sherraden, Hatch’s formula has always been to combine colour, individuality and a bold, tactile design: an approach Sherraden calls the distinctive Hatch kick. Today, they continue to apply this handmade approach to posters for artists throughout North America. Many musical acts that roll through Calgary every year use posters by Hatch Show Print; the commemorative posters for Willie Nelson’s current tour are a prime example.


The letterpress is a method of printing that dates back over five and a half centuries. The German inventor Johannes Guttenberg invented the original printing press in 1440, and it remained for centuries as the main method of printing books and other materials with large print runs. Under Guttenberg’s method, an alphabet was engraved into wooden or metal blocks. These could then be arranged on the bed of a press to form text. After applying ink to the surface of the letters, a paper would be pressed against the letters. Because the paper would touch only the raised surface of the blocks, only the raised face of the letter would be printed on the paper—this is the origin of the word ‘typeface’.

This type process was so successful that it formed the primary method of printing, until the linotype machine began to replace the letterpress in the late 19th century. The linotype automated the process, using an interface similar to a typewriter keyboard. While linotype would spell the end of the letterpress as the primary printing method, letterpress continues to be used today by some presses because of its distinctive handmade quality.

Hatch Show Print use a Vandercook press, in which the paper is attached to a cylinder that is rolled across the surface of the printing plate.


Photo above by Marshall Sokoloff.
For a great tour of Hatch's headquarters, visit Marshall's photoblog.


Printing type with letterpress is a delicate process. While the press has rails that help ensure that the type is in a straight line, the typesetter must pay careful attention to the spacing or kerning between the letters. As well, the typesetter was limited in how they could use type. The angle of the letters couldn’t be skewed or modified in other ways. To overcome this limitation, presses sometimes forego the moveable type concept and engrave letters directly into a plate. The two Hank Williams posters are an example of this. As you look through the show, try to determine which posters use moveable type, and which use type engraved directly into a plate.



The images Hatch uses are hand-carved, usually into basswood. Once the image is carved, it can be used pretty much like a letter, being reused for different posters. It’s worth noting that nothing can be resized with letterpress. A huge image such as those used for the Ritz-Craft and Landola trailers must be carved at the full 41” by 30“ size.



Printing a poster with multiple colours is an involved process. Separate plates must be made for every colour used in the poster. Each separate plate requires an additional pass through the press. If you look at a multiple-colour poster like ‘Bros.’, you can identify the shapes used for the different colours. In the carnival illustration, most of the detail is done with blue, while the purple plate doesn’t contain a lot of detail, and instead simply blocks in large areas. With letterpress, it’s relatively easy to print the same poster in different colours, which was an extremely valuable tool in the business of promoting events. One plate could be used to print posters in a range of colours, such as the red and purple Hank Williams posters.


Monoprint by Jim Sherraden.

With thanks and appreciation to Jim Sherraden, manager of Hatch Show Print, for his helpfulness, enthusiam and generosity. Thank you to Glen Dresser for writing this article and helping to set up the show.