Hatch Show Print Celebrates 135 Years
Hatch Show Print, one of the oldest working letterpress print shops in the country, was born in Nashville in 1879, the same year Edison invented the light bulb.
If you step inside the doors today, you’ll see walls lined with old wooden shelves filled with movable type, neat stacks of the original hand-carved wooden print blocks, and heavy old printing presses dating back to 1900. Their famous show prints still roll through the hand-cranked presses one sheet at a time, preserving an art that continues to chronicle the history of the South, American entertainment and the evolution of graphic design.
Since moving into their new location attached to the Country Music Hall of Fame, Hatch now offers workshops with hands-on experience. This is a great activity for the whole family to share!
You can now take your own journey back in time on a tour of the letterpress shop, seeing the entire process in action as blocks are hand-carved, laid out in reverse, inked and run through the antiques letterpresses by hand.
Despite today’s digital world, Hatch is not only alive but thrives as a business with 100 orders on the books at any given time. Customers wait a 12-week turnaround time for a Hatch original, now in such demand that they are mostly limited to community events or special fundraising causes.
The story began in 1875 when Rev. William T. Hatch moved to Nashville from Wisconsin with a small printing business. Four years later his two sons opened their own print shop, and Hatch Show Print was launched on April 12, 1879 with the printing of their first poster. It promoted the speaking engagement of Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, brother to famous American novelist and author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe.
By the turn of the century, Nashville was the country’s fifth largest printing center in the United States, primarily of religious material, and a thriving transportation hub for the L & N and Central Railways and the steamboats that plied the Cumberland River.
Will T. Hatch took over the business in 1921 and became a master woodblock carver. It was the era of traveling vaudeville, minstrels and circuses, many of whom stayed at the Old Broadway Hotel (now Merchants Restaurant), and his show prints advertised the traveling shows. The Grand Ole Opry was born in 1925, just five years after the advent of commercial radio, and Hatch captured the magic of country music and every other genre. Show posters created the excitement that sold the shows.
When the Ryman Auditorium became the Mother Church of Country Music and the home of the Grand Ole Opry, Hatch shared a close relationship as its neighbor. Talent agents booking Opry talent from across the country always promoted with a Hatch show print, and in Hatch’s store today you can buy re-strikes of posters featuring legendary music greats such as Hank Williams, Elvis, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Emmylou Harris and Vince Gill.
As you dig into Nashville’s history, the stories are interconnected. Our tour guide, Kathy, held up a poster for Emmylou Harris.
“When the Ryman was about to be demolished, Emmylou Harris did a special recording there to get attention to save it,” said Kathy. “Of course she went to Hatch for a show print.”
Gaylord, the newspaper magnate from Oklahoma, was also strongly influenced by his good friend Minnie Pearl, and effectively saved the Ryman when he bought and restored it in 1993. He also owned Hatch Show Print at one time, but generously donated it to the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum in 1992, guaranteeing the permanent preservation of this national icon.
Hatch proudly continues the 19th century traditions of a working letterpress poster shop as it was founded three generations ago. Jim Sherraden is the master printer today who personally makes creative combinations of old wood blocks and unique pieces that are sold in the gallery. He oversees a team of six designers, who design and print 600 different posters a year on their four antique printing presses for a variety of customers.
If your heart is set on a personal Hatch Show Print, there is one way to make that enviable list. Book the Country Music Hall of Fame for a wedding or private event, and you can have your wedding invitations or celebration posters made by Hatch.
Stop by the gallery on your way out where you can view historic re-strikes of original works from the archives, or buy a souvenir print or t-shirt from the Hatch Show Print Store.
Do you have a favorite Hatch Show Print? Next time you attend a performance at the Ryman, look for the Hatch poster that marks the event!