Nashville’s Letterpress Legacy

Nashville didn’t invent letterpress printing. That credit likely goes to Johannes Gutenberg in Germany in 1440. In fact, letterpress, which involves putting ink on a raised block, is one of the oldest traditional printing techniques. And it is the only one from the Gutenberg era that’s still in regular use.

So, Nashville didn’t invent it, but Music City sure made letterpress its own. More than a 100 years ago there were printing presses all over town (why do you think they call it Printers Alley?). The city was a publishing center, printing Bibles, sheet music and, of course, flyers announcing events.

Today, much of the world is digital, but Nashville has doubled down on the concert poster. Much of the Nashville credit goes to Hatch Show Print, the letterpress printer that has been using vintage type to make iconic art and signage since 1879. Many of Nashville’s active letterpress artists learned their craft in the Hatch shop.

Here are five places where you can learn more about Nashville’s signature printing style, try your hand at letterpress and buy some pieces to take home. Local’s tip: Buy an empty poster tube. You never know when you will have a new purchase you want to protect.

Hatch Show Print
Located next to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Hatch is a repository for Nashville’s history, a shop, a working press and a tourist attraction. You can sign up to take a one-hour tour, where you’ll learn Hatch secrets, see behind the signs and make your own letterpress poster. If you can’t make it when Hatch is open, it is worth walking by even when closed. You can peek in the windows and see the presses and see the presses and printed bounty before you.

Gift Horse Nashville
This East Nashville gift shop/stationery store is stocked with cards and art prints from a number of different artists. The shop is owned by Jessica Maloan Vastagh and Andy Vastagh, both designers and printers in their own right. Vastagh also owns Boss Construction, and many of his thoughtful pieces are for sale at Gift Horse.

Isle of Printing
Bryce McCloud uses design, including a lot of letterpress, not just to make art, but to use art to make Nashville a better place. Look for interactive events produced by Isle of Printing when you are in town. You also can buy his work at shops around town or online. Check Stop by Barista Parlor coffee shops to see his designs in action—on the walls, on the coffee packaging and on the tables.

Ryman Auditorium
Not every performer at the Ryman has a signature Hatch poster to commemorate their show at the Mother Church, but many do. These posters are often in-demand, so if you want one, head to the merch booth on the second floor at the beginning of the evening. Otherwise, they’ll sell out and you might miss your chance.

Camp Nevernice
Laura Baisden worked both for Isle of Printing and Hatch and leans into her illustration skills for her own work on paper. Buy her pieces at her storefront in East Nashville or online.

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