Each year, when April 12 rolls around, we celebrate Hatch Show Print’s birthday. We are honoring the date that Will T. Hatch recognized as the business’s first day in an article commemorating the shop’s sixty years in business that appeared in a 1939 issue of The Inland Printer.
As old as this letterpress print shop is, there is a poster shop, just up the road a piece in Indiana, which is actually one year older than Hatch Show Print. Tribune Showprint (that’s not a typo – some poster shops used one word) was established in 1878.
If you have spent any time driving around small town America, where traveling carnivals and circuses make their stops to entertain locals, or in larger cities, where music-and-food festivals or boxing or wrestling matches are a draw, you have no doubt driven or walked right by a Tribune Showprint poster, nailed to a telephone pole or propped in a shop window. The owners of these live entertainment productions still use posters to advertise their businesses in the twenty-first century, and Tribune Showprint produces these posters, the same way they’ve always produced them since 1878: letterpress printing each one.
When the business was established in 1878, as part of the Benton County Tribune, in Fowler, Indiana, show posters were just one of the products the shop printed for the community. From all accounts, it was newspaper printing by day, and show posters at night.
In the mid-twentieth century, the shop moved to Earl Park, Indiana, with new owners, Mildred and Arvel Furr. The posters that were produced during their ownership of the shop are recognized far and wide as ‘Tribune posters,’ yet the two most popular poster styles their customers ordered from them are radically different from each other.
Mildred Furr was an artist, and she painted hundreds of eye-catching posters using gouache to advertise dances, magic shows, high school sports and more. She limited the palette for each painting to make it easier for the artwork to be dissected and recreated as letterpress-printed poster backgrounds and frames, and Arvel cut them out of ‘Ti-Pi,’ a form of rubber that could be mounted type high and printed over and over without wearing out.
A customer could select this pre-printed artwork, and have their copy printed on top of the open area that was part of each poster design.
For customers who wanted their information to be the focus of the poster, Tribune Showprint offered posters printed with a variety of split fountain (or rainbow roll) rectangular backgrounds, upon which the show information would be printed in black. These posters are often cited as iconic late-twentieth century advertising posters, and a number of shops used this method to liven up similarly straightforward posters.
Tribune Showprint currently resides in Muncie, Indiana, and is owned and operated by Kim Miller. There was just one other owner between the Furr family and Kim, and as she is coming up on her third busy season at the helm of this 140-year-old shop, she and her partner in restoration and investigation, her husband Rob, are still learning about the history of the shop from the descendants of past owners, and from those who worked with the shop over the decades it has been in business.
Currently, her clients prefer the workhorse posters they’ve relied on for so many years. Kim prints every one of them on a Babcock Optimus No. 35, a press the shop probably purchased new around 1912 when it was first introduced.
In addition to show posters, Kim offers custom design work that she can print on a platen press (invitations and small items), and has helped launch Book Arts Collaborative, a book arts program that was established by English professor Rai Peterson at Ball State University. The book arts studio lives right next door to the print shop so that students enrolled in the program can see the shop in action and have immediate access to Kim’s experience and patient guidance. And in between all of these activities, Kim explores the collection at Tribune Showprint, organizing and documenting the cuts, and the shop’s history. We can’t wait to learn more!