Wing Lee Street's last working letterpress saved for posterity

After six decades the last working printer on historic Wing Lee Street is saved for posterity

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 February, 2015, 5:25pm

The last letterpress printing shop on Wing Lee Street, where the award-winning Echoes of the Rainbow was filmed, has fallen victim to advances in technology.

The Sheung Wan street, which has one of the city's last remaining clusters of Chinese-style tenements, was once home to 11 printing shops. While the street was saved from redevelopment in 2010 following calls for its preservation in the wake of the film's success, the old-fashioned printing shops established there several decades ago have failed to stand the test of time.

Lee Zak-yue, 83, had mixed feelings yesterday as he watched the heavy Original Heidelberg Cylinder Letter Press Machine removed from his shop, lifted by a crane onto a truck.

While Lee's six-decade printing career came to an end with the closure of his Wai Che Printing Company yesterday, there was a bright side.

The machine will avoid the landfill and instead find a new home at Youth Square in Chai Wan. It will be part of an exhibit on printing from late January to early February of next year.

"I spent more than HK$100,000 on the machine," Lee said. "Buying a printing machine at that time was like buying retail space on the ground floor nowadays."

Letterpress printing, which has been in use in the West since the 15th century and in China since about 1040, involves locking movable type into a bed, inking it, and pressing paper against it to form a print. Design of printed materials is done by manually arranging letter punches, and an alphabet of such letters can be found in Lee's shop.

The slow speed of letterpress printing put it at a big disadvantage to offset printing, which took off in the 1950s. It now involves computerised design, and transfers images from metal plates to paper without touching it.

Lee said his letterpress machine would be a tribute to the golden days of commercial printing. "I've found it a good home, and people will have the chance to see it," he said.

Lee will also host workshops at Youth Square next year, teaching young people about traditional printing.