Regional museum’s tale of Australia’s historic inky business

Feb 06, 2024 at 06:10 pm by admin

A lesser-known but comprehensive printing museum – complete with Linotype – tells the story of printing ink in Australia.

Ink is still impressed onto paper in Armidale in New South Wales’ New England region, where the local museum maintains some of the country’s most historic printing equipment through what is called the F.T. Wimble Collection.


Included is a variety of early flatbed and clamshell platen presses, including an Albion and another 1883 model bearing the Wimble name, a Model 14 Linotype linecaster made in New York in 1914, and a pneumatic Monotype keyboard to produce broad paper tape to drive the ubiquitious (single-character) caster.

Sadly, when I called in late last month, the side-magazine Linotype was standing on a pallet, apparently unconnected to an electricity supply. A placard announced that one could be seen running at Sydney’s Penrith Museum of Printing.

I was able to have an interesting conversation about stereotyping, however, with a volunteer who shyly identified herself as Rhonda, and was working to integrate some of the museum’s collection of advertising stereos with colourful lino-prints produced at the museum.

A casting box was at hand to produce stereos from the papier-mache flongs which were typically issued by advertisers in the letterpress era.

There are also early designs of typewriter on show in Armidale, including the curious Mignon. Usefully, a leaflet for students educates on the fundamentals of movable and cast type, explaining the arrangement of loose type in cases – where larger compartments provide for more popular characters – and the keyboards of linotypes and typewriters.

Englishman Fred Thomas Wimble arrived by sea in Melbourne as a sickly 21-year-old in 1867, just as the colony’s printing industry was taking off, and bringing inks, formulas and other printing materials with him.

The following year also saw the first Australian-made paper, and the launch of the Melbourne Star, for which Wimble supplied a distinctive blue ink.

He also printed – using his own ink – South Australia’s innovative “penny red” stamp in 1869.

Returning from a visit home in 1876 with more equipment and a variety of agencies, he moved his headquarters to Sydney, from which he supplied ink, every kind of machinery, rollers and type.

Then, apparently tired of the print industry, he headed to north Queensland, becoming a “sugar baron”, and is credited with establishing the Cairns Post – a weekly paper not directly connected with today’s News Corp masthead – in 1883, during five years as a member of the Queensland parliament.

The collection was mostly assembled by H.L. Wallace, who took control of the F.T. Wimble & Co business in the 1970s, and was offered to the New England Regional Art Museum in 1998. The present museum space – underneath NERAM – was created with support from government, corporate and private sponsors including brothers John Brehmer Fairfax and Timothy Vincent Fairfax – fifth-generation members of the Sydney Morning Herald family – and the Andrew Thyne Reid Charitable Trust.

Other printing equipment from the collection – including an 1867 ink mill – is listed as located  in Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum.

Armidale’s is an important collection of equipment from a formative stage in history, and a worthwhile job has been done to explain – on paper at least – how it worked and why.

It’s a pity however, that many of the critical human skills – how to use that Linotype, for example, and keep it running – are being lost, and I would urge anyone who has them to get in touch with the museum.

NERAM is active in the printmaking segment, and has an event this coming Friday (February 9) to launch four new exhibitions and a “seniors festival” during March.

But wouldn’t it be good to hear the familiar clatter of that Linotype again, perhaps courtesy of a senior (not me!) able to pass on the knowledge of how it all comes together?

Peter Coleman

Pictured (from top): The museum of printing’s Linotype; NERAM has historic Albion and other early presses and other equipment; the Linotype and a Monotype keyboard; stereo casting kit and integrating the stereo images with other prints; Wimbles’ Mascot factory in 1935 had grown from its origins 20 years earlier, also key staff in 1903, and the two premises the company occupied in Clarence Street, Sydney; a historic proofing press made by Wimbles.


or Register to post a comment