Hatch Show Print, a historic print shop in Nashville, TN, continues to thrive with its feet planted firmly in both the past and the present.
When brothers Charles and Herbert Hatch completed their first printing job in 1879, they probably never imagined their company would endure for more than a century. They didn’t know the simple handbill they designed, which announced the appearance of Rev. Henry Ward Beecher (brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe), would lay the foundation for what would become one of the most iconic print companies in America. Suffice it to say, generations later, many people certainly wish they had preserved that first poster.
Today, the company the brothers started with that first print remains strong. Although new printing methods have all but shut down this old-fashioned, hand-made style of design, Hatch Show Print continues to thrive as an iconic design shop with its feet planted firmly in both the past and the present.
From the beginning, the Hatch brothers showed a talent for simple, understated design with high-quality lettering, and the company’s ongoing attention to design detail turned it into a continuing success story for the 21st century.
The Appeal of Letterpress Prints
Despite the modernization of printing techniques through the years, Hatch Show Print continues to use the same letterpress printing technique developed in the 1400s. In fact, the shop’s artists use the same wooden blocks that were hand-carved by the brothers nearly 140 years ago.
Letterpress, which involves pressing paper onto ink-covered wooden or metal letters and hand-carved images, has been largely replaced by offset and digital printing. Nonetheless, Hatch Show Print has carved out a niche and found popularity with customers who prefer its high-touch approach over that of high-tech. Even in a highly digital era, this seemingly antiquated business is more popular today than ever before.
“When processes or technologies become outdated, it becomes a craft,” says Celene Aubry, shop manager for Hatch Show Print, explaining the renewed appeal of letterpress. “Also, a lot of graphic design instructors find that students who spend too much time with [the computer screen] between them and their work…lose the connectivity to the design.”
The hands-on approach of letterpress design allows artists to reconnect with their work, and handcrafting also resonates with customers who appreciate the subtle textures and imperfections of hand-made art. “When technology advances, it [initially] attracts all of our attention and our creative energy,” Aubry says. “We’re so enamored with it that we don’t recognize its shortcomings, but eventually we discover that [new technology] doesn’t have some of the things that you’ll find in a hand-printed poster.”
She compares the interest in letterpress prints to the renewed appreciation of vinyl records. Many audiophiles complain that digital technology has made the music too sterile. Vinyl, on the other hand, offers a sound that many find warmer and more personal, complete with cracks and pops as the needle travels the grooves.
“I think not being able to touch anything, whether it’s something on our computer screen or music in our pocket, doesn’t provide that same interactive experience. I think that’s one of the reasons [our company is] going gangbusters right now.”
Everything Old Is New
The shop has long been a point of interest for tourists, and recent years have seen a dramatic uptick in foot traffic. Today, in addition to having a complete working print shop inside the same building as the Country Music Hall of Fame, Hatch Print Shop has expanded to include Hatch Show Print’s Haley Gallery, which features themed exhibits that are changed on a regular basis. The Hatch Show Print Store also gives shoppers a chance to pick up Hatch merchandise, ranging from prints and notecards to T-shirts and books.
Tours of the print shop, which are offered three times a day, include a visit to the back area of the shop and an opportunity to make your own Hatch Show Print. Family programs on the weekend teach children about the craft and allow them to make a print.
Although the shop isn’t technically a museum, its walls are a genuine Who’s Who of entertainment, past and present. Seemingly every inch of wall space is covered with prints and posters that serve as proof of Hatch’s enduring popularity. From large-format advertisements (precursor to billboards) announcing tent revival shows to posters from the early days of the Grand Old Opry, the prints serve as testimony to changing styles and interests.
The history tour continues with posters announcing shows for Elvis, Patsy Cline, Hank Williams Sr., Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton (who remains a current client), and many other instantly recognizable names and faces. Posters for contemporary artists like Brad Paisley, Katy Perry, and Train also adorn the walls. The shop designs concert posters for acts who play Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium, and many concert-goers insist the experience isn’t complete “until you get your Hatch.”
The company does about 600 jobs a year, including local work as well as posters for venues around the country. “It’s pretty incredible when you think about it,” Aubrey says. “Our company started the same year the light bulb was invented.” And it’s still burning just as bright.
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