BEGINNINGS IN NASHVILLE
HATCH SHOW PRINT IS AN OLD-FASHIONED LETTERPRESS PRINT SHOP THAT HAS BEEN MAKING ENTERTAINMENT POSTERS"SHOW POSTERS"IN NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE, SINCE 1879. OPERATED BY THE COUNTRY MUSIC HALL OF FAME AND MUSEUM SINCE 1986 AND OWNED BY THAT ORGANIZATION SINCE 1992, HATCH IS STILL AN ACTIVE BUSINESS, STILL PRINTING AND DESIGNING POSTERS THAT ARE DISTINCTIVE AND EYE-CATCHINGA HAPPY RESULT OF PRESSING HAND-INKED, HAND-CARVED WOODBLOCKS, TYPE, AND METAL PLATES ONTO PAPER, COMBINED WITH THE ARTISTIC FLAIR AND TALENT OF HATCH'S CRAFTSMEN AND WOMEN OVER THE YEARS.
The Hatch Show Print story is indeed a colorful one that encompasses the history of the South, of American entertainment, and of graphic design, for Hatch is a place where history has been preserved on the fly and where to this day, the clock is turned backward, even in the midst of a bustling business.
The story begins in 1875. The Civil War had ended only ten years earlier. Vanderbilt Universitya philanthropic attempt to reconcile the North and South financed by Northern transportation magnate Cornelius Vanderbilthad been founded on the city's western border just two years before. Nashville was shaking off its war-torn memories and flexing its muscle as a burgeoning transportation and printing hub.
That same year, the Rev. William T. Hatch, a minister and small business man from the North, moved to Nashville and opened a publishing business downtown. From this modest beginning, the seeds of Hatch Show Print were sown.
Born in 1812, the Rev. Hatch had previously lived inIndianaand had run a printing shop in Prescott, Wisconsin, where he taught his sons, Charles and Herbert, the trade. Nashville's reputation as a thriving printing and publishing center probably attracted the Rev. Hatch. As he must have known, Christian publishing was on the rise in Nashville. The Methodist Church had founded its publishing house in Nashville in 1854, and by the end of the decade publishing firms affiliated with the Southern Baptists, the Presbyterians, the Church of Christ, the Seventh Day Adventists, and other churches had also established residence in Nashville. Each denomination printed bibles, hymnals, and periodicals for the region and the nation. As a result, by the turn of the century Nashville was the fifth leading publishing center in the nation.
From a printer's perspective, the Rev. Hatch must have seen the town as an attractive destination. Because of the many religious publishers in town, Nashville boasted plenty of printing presses, skilled labor, and affordable supplies such as ink and paper. In addition, it was centrally located (an important consideration for transporting and mailing publications), and it was a regular port of call for steamboats plying the Cumberland River as well as a railroad nexus for trains on the busy L&N and Tennessee Central routes.
The Rev. Hatch wasted no time making his mark in Nashville as the editor and publisher of Southern Industries, an eight-page weekly business newspaper. Settling comfortably into his new hometown, he rose quickly in the civic hierarchy, gaining an appointment as Nashville's Assistant Commissioner of Immigration. In 1879, however, in a sad reversal of fortune, the office of Southern Industries burned to the ground. The Rev. Hatch died the following year.
But a seed had been planted. In April 1879, the Rev. Hatch's sons, twenty-seven-year-old Charles and twenty-five-year-old Herbert, opened their own printing shop on 22 North Cherry Street (now Fourth Avenue South). Because the spacious building at this address was also the site of Nashville's biggest newspaper at the time, the Nashville Banner, it's probable that the Hatch shop leased space from the Banner. Hatch company legend has it that Charleswho briefly worked for the Bannerand Herbert bought a portion of the Banner's letterpress printing department when it was put up for sale shortly before the Hatch brothers opened their printing shop in 1879.
The sale probably made good business sense from the Banner's perspective: letterpress technology was already in decline as the faster, mechanized printing method of offset lithography was coming into play. But the sale probably made sense for the Hatch brothers as well: letterpress printing, though labor intensive, was still cost-effective for the smaller print runs for show posters and signs. At that time, both rubber and linoleum cost considerably more than wood, and wood allowed for designs to be drawn (and then carved) directly onto the printing surface in reverse, saving time. In any event, here is where Hatch Show Print begins, though the shop was then known simply as "C. R. & H. H. Hatch, Printers."
Printing of all kinds was a growing industry in the late 1800s in Nashville, then a town of 43,000 people. The new Hatch shop was one of fifteen printers to be found in the city in 1880; four other printers could be found with them on Cherry Street. The first poster ever created at Hatch was made on April 12, 1879. It was a 6 x 9-inch "dodger," or handbill, announcing the speaking appearance of Henry Ward Beecher, who in addition to being a noted minister, author, and public speaker, was brother to Harriet Ward Beecher, arguably the most popular American novelist of the mid-nineteenth century and author of the best-selling novel Uncle Tom's Cabin.
With the Henry Ward Beecher poster, all of the key elements that would come to characterize a Hatch Show Print design were in place: late nineteenth-century typography, letterpress printing technology, woodblocks, and metal type.
Another Hatch job from this period (circa 1885) provides the earliest example of a Hatch show poster. This dodger featured Margaret Mather, "the World's Greatest Juliet," performing in Romeo and Juliet during her "First Appearance in Nashville." We can smile today at the dated show business references to "The Most Complete and Expensive Representation of Shakespearean Plays Ever Given to the World," the company of 120 people "Whose Ages Range from 5 to 75 Years," the "4 Carloads of Scenery," and the ticket prices listed under one dollar, "notwithstanding the tremendous expenses attached to this production." But posters like this were very effective publicity. However wordy, the advertising slogans of the day connected with the public. (Margaret Mather herself had the interesting distinction of being married for a short time to Col. Gustav Pabst, son of Fredrick Pabst, founder of the Pabst Brewing Company.)
Around this time, the Hatch brothers gained a significant show client in the thriving realm of vaudeville productions, with the New York-based Keith-Albee-Orpheum theater chain (one of the nation's oldest) ordering Hatch posters regularly to promote vaudeville shows throughout its chain of theaters. Hatch also managed to catch the first mass-media wave of the post-vaudeville era: motion pictures. Two small Hatch woodblocks have survived in the current-day collections of Hatch, carved with the names of William S. Hart and Tom Mix, probably the most popular western stars of the silent film era. Hart starred in more than sixty silent films in eleven years with such memorable titles as Hell's Hinges (1916), Blue Blazes Rawden (1918), and Three Word Brand (1921). Tom Mix, by contrast, was a much more prolific actor and colorful character whooften "With His Wonder Horse Tony"starred in more than three hundred films and started a circus after the "talkies" took a toll on his film career in the early 1930s. The posters made from these blocks were used regionally by movie theaters in the South to entice customers through their doors.
Even as Hatch was becoming involved in producing show posters that mirrored the history of American entertainment, the firm often had to rely on the bread-and-butter print jobs brought by businesses, organizations, and people of its own community. In the first two decades of the twentieth century, the Hatch brothers printed work for a variety of nonentertainment purposes, such as evangelistic services, Fisk University programs, farm posters, houses-for-sale, contests, tickets and election ballots, the Tennessee State Fair, the Vanderbilt Athletic Association, the Presbyterian Mission School, and the White Front Cafe. The same basic balance of print jobs is maintained at the shop to this day: some of these jobs still comprise part of a typical Hatch work load.
Still, show printing remained the Hatch brothers' primary occupation, as the name of the business would soon make clear. A Hatch advertisement placed in the December 18, 1920 edition of entertainment trade magazine The Billboard wished its readership "The Season's Greetings." Under this heading appeared the first known usage of "Hatch Show Print," in bold letters and over the smaller print "C. R. & H. H. Hatch, Nashville, Tenn."
No one knows for sure when the term "show print" was coined or when the name came to be used exclusively by the firm, although there's an amusing explanation from Mai Cook Fultona Hatch bookkeeper who started work in 1934 and was a fixture for years in the shopthat might serve as the last word. "I changed the name from C. R. & H. H. Hatch because of their slogan 'We Crow About Our Good Work.' I didn't want people thinkin' I worked at a hatchery, so I changed it to Hatch Show Print."
For all their hard work in building the Hatch business, not much information on the two brothers has survived into the present beyond a few pictures of stalwart citizens sporting prominent mustaches. They both were born in Indiana, Charles in 1853 in Knightstown, Herbert in 1854 in Franklin. Both brothers were married, and it's likely that Charles's wife, Mary Spaulding Hatch, worked in the shop, perhaps as a bookkeeper.
We also know that Charles's son, William (or Will) T. Hatch (born in 1886 and named for his paternal grandfather), was raised in his father's shop andin keeping with family traditionlearned the craft of printmaking "after school, on Saturdays, and during vacations," as he told one publication in his later years. "That's why," he continued, "though comparatively young in years, I was well trained in all branches of the work when I took active management of the firm after my father died."
The year Will T. Hatch took over the shop was 1921. Four years later Will's uncle Herbert was dead as well. Yet Hatch Show Print was just beginning to realize its potential and about to enter a golden thirty-year stretch of show print history, led by the redoubtable Will Hatch.
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Copyright © 2001 The Catholic University of America Press. All rights reserved.