Between the Lines – The Legends of Hong Kong Printing
1/F, Thematic Gallery 5
7 October 2020 – 22 February 2021
Jointly presented by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department and the Hong Kong Open Printshop
Jointly organised by the Hong Kong Heritage Museum and the Hong Kong Open Printshop
Curated by the Hong Kong Open Printshop
Can you imagine how books, posters, and other printed matters were made before the emergence of computerised typesetting and offset printing? "Between the Lines – The Legends of Hong Kong Printing" presents an array of interesting stories about two traditional printing methods: movable type and lithography. In addition to showcasing the lost art of traditional printing techniques, the exhibition illustrates how young designers are injecting their creative ideas into a new generation of printed products, reviving and transforming the tradition of movable type and letterpress printing.
The exhibition goes back to the beginning of the 19th century, when Robert Morrison left the UK and came to China as a missionary, where he led the development of letterpress printing in modern China. In those days, the "Ming typeface" designed by Anglo-Chinese College was known as the "Hong Kong Type" and was considered to be the most beautiful Chinese type. It was sold overseas and was used in The Chinese Classics, translated by James Legge, the English and Chinese Dictionary, with the Punti and Mandarin Pronunciation, compiled by Wilhelm Lobscheid, the Universal Circulating Herald, founded by Wang Tao, and The Self Educator, written by Johnson Sun to help Chinese labourers working in Australia learn English.
Lithography arrived in China in 1826 and became widely adopted within decades, as it was easier than woodblocks and cheaper than movable types. In 1884, Shen Bao issued the Dianshizhai Pictorial in Shanghai, the first image-based journal. This ushered in the new age of graphic storytelling, which was made possible by the introduction of lithography. By the 1930s, chromolithographic posters were a common sight. Thanks to the technology of colour separation, platemaking and subtractive processes, readers were introduced to vibrant colours in print and a more engaging visual experience.
Today, lithography has developed into offset printing, which is now the mainstream practice in the printing industry. Movable type printing is inscribed on the list of intangible cultural heritage. Many young people now aspire to revive traditional craftsmanship by exploring the possibilities of incorporating old printing techniques into contemporary designs.
Welcome to download the exhibition booklet
This chromolithographic poster, titled Far Eastern Grocery Store, was printed by the Asiatic Lithographic Printing Press in 1926
Collection of Hong Kong Museum of History
Lead matrices for "Hong Kong Type" from 1860 at the National Museum of Ethnology in Leiden, the Netherlands, and 2020 lead movable types recast by Foundation Type Foundry Westzaan.
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Typesetting for letterpress printing can be a very demanding process. Each character, as well as the word and line spacing, must be laid out with lead blocks of type and spacing materials, requiring a high degree of precision.
The Heidelberg Windmill Platen Press, produced in Germany in the 1960s, was common in Hong Kong's letterpress printing workshops in the mid-20th century. This one, owned by the Hong Kong Open Printshop, is still functioning properly.