14 Feb 2011


As with the previous post, I'm referencing Issue 13 of Voyage. In Bob Richardson's article 'Titanic's printers: Their legacy endures' he also tries to get to the bottom of where the print room was located and what typefaces may have been used by the printers and by the White Star Line at the time.

It is difficult to pinpoint the exact location of the print room on the Titanic and different plans show various possible locations that it could have been. 'Various plans of Titanic show differing locations for the print shop, but the tiny office adjacent to the First Class Pantry on D-Deck, and marked "Printers Room" (see page 198 of Susan Wel's Titanic) is far too small to have been anything other that a tiny administrative area... ...An enlarged deck plan of the RMS Olympic faxed to me by Harland & Wolff last July shows a good sized room on the port side of E-Deck, close to the Potato Store, which is clearly marked "16 printers"... ...The size of the room is perfect for a ship's print shop... ...The small D-Deck office may well have been used by the printers, for it made sense to have an office close to their main customer (the restaurants) and also permitted easier access for others requiring printed matter, saving a trip downstairs to the crew quarters.'

When it comes to the typefaces used onboard, we have proof of certain faces but can only speculate at others. Suprisingly enough, the 'Grot' face that Richardson puts forward is still very much in use today under various similar guises and digital forms ie. Akzidenz Grotesk and it's many modern variations.  'The typefaces in use in Titanic's print shop were commonplace in 1912. White Star exercised an uncommon degree of restraint in the use of ornamented faces. Their stationery used clean, modern layouts featuring unfussy typefaces, whilst many small British and American commercial print shops still favoured some of the over decorated Victorian gingerbread typefaces commonly seen in printed ephemera of the period. If White Star had a 'house' face, then it was Stephenson Blake's "Westminster," known as "Della Robbia" in the United States. Menus were printed using English "Grot" sans serif faces ("Gothic" in the U.S.) in a range of sizes. Many of these are still available from stock today, although Stephenson Blake no longer casts new type and can only supply from the limited range in their warehouse. Perhaps the most decorative face used on White Star stationery is Theodore De Vinne's distinctive design shown alongside, and used for passenger stationery headings such as "On Board RMS Titanic."'

'The cargo manifest for Titanic shows a wide range of printing related items. There were large quantities of books and stationery in the various cargo holds, including tissue, paper and parchment, and four boxes of printer's blankets. One of the most curious items, shipped for Brown Brothers, was 76 cases of dragon's blood. This material had nothing to do with the  mythical beast, but was in fact a type of acid-resisting resin commonly used in the manufacture of printing plates.'

'On the night of the sinking Albert and Ernest probably worked late. Orders for the breakfast menus would have come in during the afternoon, and although there was a set menu for certain days of the week this was Titanic's maiden voyage and many bills of fare were being set up from scratch, necessitating extra work. Had the ship managed to avoid the iceberg, the printers on subsequent voyages would have needed to change little more than the date on some later menus. Perhaps the men also printed Monday's lunch menus that Sunday evening. If the ship's print shop was indeed the area originally intended for 16 waiters, then it is possible Albert and Ernest also slept in the same area. We can only guess what happened to the printers when Titanic struck that great mass of ice, for none of the accounts make reference to them after the collision.'

'Both printers died in the disaster and their widows received financial assistance from the Titanic Relief Fund, for the White Star Line topped their wages at the moment the ship sank.'

12 Feb 2011


I've just been pointed towards issue 34 of Voyage, the official Journal of the Titanic International Society (Autumn 2000). Contained within is what I've been searching for since Christmas, an article focusing on the printers onboard the titanic. The article written by Bob Richardson (London Branch Secretary of the British Printing Society) gives a great insight into their backgrounds, conditions of work, possible equipment used and likely onboard roles as printers ie. what they may have been printing on the ship in the days before it went down.

The chief printer was Abraham Mansoor Mishellany (born 1860) and his assistant was Ernest Theodore Corbin (born 1885). For their services for White Star Line they were paid £1.50 and £1 per week respectively. 'Both men earned a few extra shillings by printing private dinner menus, visiting cards and luggage labels for wealthy passengers.'

They were likely to have been kept busy on a boat the size of Titanic but because they were such skilled compositors, they 'would have made short work of restaurant menus which he (Ernest) could easily have been set up in 20-30 minutes. Printing each batch on an "Arab" treadle press would take perhaps anothter half hour.'

'... many items, particularly those bearing the vessel's name, were produced on board. There varied from menus and waiters' notepads for the many restaurants through to tickets for the Turkish bath. A large number of different menus were printed on board Titanic. Some were basic black text on white card but these were sometimes presented in an attractive folder decorated with a colour illustration of White Star training ships, one of which was the Mersey. These folders were reused with different inserts for each meal. A surviving second class menu was printed on white card which carried a coloured banner at the top featuring the British and American flags, surmounted by a pair of beaming white stars and framing a painting of the liner. Some others such as the first class luncheon menu on April 14th, were simple white cards with the company flag printed in scarlet and the gold embossed monogram of White Star's parent company beneath it. The full-colour printing was carried out onshore, and Albert and Ernest added only the black text when at sea.'

Other likely printing jobs consisted of 'raffle tickets, programmes of events on board, lists of pieces to be played in musical recitals and general stationery for the purser's office.'

9 Feb 2011


It's been a busy few months researching the Titanic through books, films and online. I've recently got in contact with Mr. Timothy Trower, an avid Titanic buff and working letterpress historian. This has been a breakthrough as far as any narrative is concerned because Tim is hoping to publish an in depth review of the letterpress facilities on board the Titanic and has a lot of valuable information for me. The fact that my project will be printed letterpress and that the titanic had on board letterpress machinery shouldn't be overlooked. I will use this as my starting point when trying to create a narrative for the book. To sum up briefly what Tim has provided me with to date...

"Almost certainly the press(es) used were platen presses (or clamshell-style presses); these are commonly called a Gordon platen press and the type used on the Titanic was probably the English-manufactured Arab press or the USA-manufactured Chandler & Price press. Generally speaking, what was printed on board were the daily menus, invitations to private parties, and such oddball items as labels for crates of roosters that were being transported (none of the chickens survived the sinking), a press of a large size would not have been needed."

"Due to the look and feel of the menus that I've examined, I am confident that two presses were employed given changes in impression, transfer of ink, etc. between the examples I've looked at."

"That I am aware of, there are no photographs of the printing offices on board any of the Olympic-class liners."

"The Titanic did not have a daily newspaper.  At this moment, I can say with certain authority that even the Olympic did not have a newspaper until up into the summer of 1912."
Here's a working Chandler & Price press I found on Briar Press

Here's a working Chandler & Price press I found on Flickr