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The Romance of Letterpress

book review Nov 28, 2022

This book is the story of a diary that lay hidden for over 100 years.

The diary was written by a young letterpress printer from Sydney, who, in 1913, embarked on a fascinating journey of discovery.

The Romance of Letterpress describes life in Australia and the United States at the beginning of the twentieth century when Letterpress was still a thriving print medium. 

At age 21, Wal Cryer packed his bags and boarded a steamer to try his hand at working his way across America as a printer.

A romantic element runs through this tale, as Wal abandons his Sydney fiancé to pursue his dream in Chicago, where he worked as a labourer before heading to New York and then returning to Australia via several different ships as World War I began.

Thanks to the remarkable discovery of a diary and an album of postcards, author James Cryer was shocked to discover his grandfather had left him a window into history. These hand-written accounts tell about life in the early twentieth century and the revolution it sparked.

Six years in the making, this unique book is arousing considerable interest throughout the printing industry, as you might imagine. It is, however, aimed at a wider audience: anyone interested in social history, especially seen through the eyes of someone ''who was there at the time''. Moreover, this period (1913) has some added flavour, as it was that last gasp of the age of innocence before mankind descended into four years of darkness as the Great War erupted.

As part of the broader resurgence of ''craft'' generally, Letterpress is now also making a comeback. So this book is a timely reminder of how letterpress printing fits into the great jigsaw puzzle of life.

The fact that Wal had a fiancé back home in Sydney prompted him to send her numerous postcards, which remained hidden during the intervening years and now enliven the words he wrote each evening for ten months.

As a newly-minted letterpress printer from Sydney, he encountered good and bad bosses—all duly recorded here, for posterity! 

James Cryer has kept this book entertaining and informative, a tour through life as it was then, seen through the eyes of a young tradesman—his grandfather. 

Throughout the book, James raises several issues and thought-provoking questions. In addition, he has devoted another Appendix to the world's most complicated yet under-rated contraption, the Linotype machine, and pays tribute to that enigmatic term ''SHRDLU''.

Who would have thought that all this and more would have come from a young man writing to his parents each night in hotel rooms across America over a century ago? 

We use the term ''miracle'' loosely, but it's a miracle the diary and postcards were never thrown out. Instead, they remained in the Cryer family, forgotten until James discovered them over 100 years later. A poignant reminder to us all—what did our grandfathers do, and how did they spend their lives?

This book is as much a story about our grandparents' lives as it is about the Romance of Letterpress.

The book is printed in landscape A4 hardback format by Intertype of Melbourne. Click here for more details.

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