Victorian methods make for a unique selling point at a Borders printing press.
While keeping apace with the latest in technological advances is vital to the success of many businesses today, a Borders printer is continuing to prosper using machinery which dates back to the late 1800s.
One hundred and fifty years after Smail’s Printers opened in Innerleithen, the works still favour Letterpress over digital printing.
Having escaped the invasion of desk top publishing, Smail’s draws in commercial income using 19th-century equipment, with today’s love for tactile quality and the quirky, vintage look ensuring customers continue to use the service – despite a ‘rush job’ taking up to two weeks.
‘I love working with this machinery,’ says printer Chris Haig. ‘It’s a privilege because there aren’t many people my age doing this kind of job. We’re the only UK printer setting type by hand and printing letterpress commercially.’
It was March 1866 when Robert Smail took on the Innerleithen premises. Recognising the potential in the expanding industrial town, the former shoe seller invested in printing technology and was inundated with work for the local woollen mills.
Having taken over the business with his brothers in 1890, family entrepreneur Robert Cowan Smail expanded the equipment to include larger presses for the production of posters and newspapers, as well as investing in lithographic equipment.
It was the last time the business invested in new technology with future generations of Smails continuing the traditional method on original machinery.
The village press, which was taken on by the National Trust for Scotland in 1986, still processes orders for raffl e tickets, stationery, business cards and wedding invitations, as well as printing Trust literature and other commercial projects.
‘It can vary from printing a one-off copy of something that runs of thousands,’ Haig says. Anniversary celebrations and tours take place in March.
For more details visit www.nts.org.uk/Property/Robert-Smails-Printing-Works
(This feature was originally published in 2016)