Copyright © 2001 Country Music Foundation, Inc.. All rights reserved.
BEGINNINGS IN NASHVILLE
HATCH SHOW PRINT IS AN OLD-FASHIONED LETTERPRESSPRINT SHOP THAT HAS BEEN MAKING ENTERTAINMENTPOSTERS"SHOW POSTERS"IN NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE,SINCE 1879. OPERATED BY THE COUNTRY MUSIC HALL OF FAMEAND MUSEUM SINCE 1986 AND OWNED BY THAT ORGANIZATIONSINCE 1992, HATCH IS STILL AN ACTIVE BUSINESS, STILLPRINTING AND DESIGNING POSTERS THAT ARE DISTINCTIVEAND EYE-CATCHINGA HAPPY RESULT OF PRESSING HAND-INKED,HAND-CARVED WOODBLOCKS, TYPE, AND METAL PLATESONTO PAPER, COMBINED WITH THE ARTISTIC FLAIR AND TALENTOF HATCH'S CRAFTSMEN AND WOMEN OVER THE YEARS.
The Hatch Show Print story is indeed a colorful one that encompasses the history ofthe South, of American entertainment, and of graphic design, for Hatch is a placewhere history has been preserved on the fly and where to this day, the clock is turnedbackward, even in the midst of a bustling business.
The story begins in 1875. The Civil War had ended only ten years earlier. VanderbiltUniversitya philanthropic attempt to reconcile the North and South financed byNorthern transportation magnate Cornelius Vanderbilthad been founded on thecity's western border just two years before. Nashville was shaking off its war-torn memoriesand flexing its muscle as a burgeoning transportation and printing hub.
That same year, the Rev. William T. Hatch, a minister and small business man from theNorth, moved to Nashville and opened a publishing business downtown. From thismodest beginning, the seeds of Hatch Show Print were sown.
Born in 1812, the Rev. Hatch had previously lived in Indiana and had run a printingshop in Prescott, Wisconsin, where he taught his sons, Charles and Herbert, the trade.Nashville's reputation as a thriving printing and publishing center probably attracted theRev. Hatch. As he must have known, Christian publishing was on the rise in Nashville.The Methodist Church had founded its publishing house in Nashville in 1854, and bythe end of the decade publishing firms affiliated with the Southern Baptists, thePresbyterians, the Church of Christ, the Seventh Day Adventists, and other churcheshad also established residence in Nashville. Each denomination printed bibles, hymnals,and periodicals for the region and the nation. As a result, by the turn of the centuryNashville was the fifth leading publishing center in the nation.
From a printer's perspective, the Rev. Hatch must have seen the town as an attractivedestination. Because of the many religious publishers in town, Nashville boasted plentyof printing presses, skilled labor, and affordable supplies such as ink and paper. In addition,it was centrally located (an important consideration for transporting and mailing publications),and it was a regular port of call for steamboats plying the Cumberland River aswell as a railroad nexus for trains on the busy L&N and Tennessee Central routes.
The Rev. Hatch wasted no time making his mark in Nashville as the editor and publisherof Southern Industries, an eight-page weekly business newspaper. Settling comfortablyinto his new hometown, he rose quickly in the civic hierarchy, gaining an appointmentas Nashville's Assistant Commissioner of Immigration. In 1879, however, in a sad reversalof fortune, the office of Southern Industries burned to the ground. The Rev. Hatch diedthe following year.
But a seed had been planted. In April 1879, the Rev. Hatch's sons, twenty-seven-year-oldCharles and twenty-five-year-old Herbert, opened their own printing shop on22 North Cherry Street (now Fourth Avenue South). Because the spacious building atthis address was also the site of Nashville's biggest newspaper at the time, the NashvilleBanner, it's probable that the Hatch shop leasedspace from the Banner. Hatch company legend has itthat Charleswho briefly worked for the BannerandHerbert bought a portion of the Banner's letterpressprinting department when it was put up forsale shortly before the Hatch brothers opened theirprinting shop in 1879.
The sale probably made good business sense fromthe Banner's perspective: letterpress technology wasalready in decline as the faster, mechanized printingmethod of offset lithography was coming into play.But the sale probably made sense for the Hatchbrothers as well: letterpress printing, though laborintensive, was still cost-effective for the smaller printruns for show posters and signs. At that time, bothrubber and linoleum cost considerably more thanwood, and wood allowed for designs to be drawn(and then carved) directly onto the printing surfacein reverse, saving time. In any event, here is whereHatch Show Print begins, though the shop was thenknown simply as "C. R. & H. H. Hatch, Printers."
Printing of all kinds was a growing industry in thelate 1800s in Nashville, then a town of 43,000 people.The new Hatch shop was one of fifteen printersto be found in the city in 1880; four other printerscould be found with them on Cherry Street. Thefirst poster ever created at Hatch was made on April12, 1879. It was a 6 x 9-inch "dodger," or handbill,announcing the speaking appearance of Henry WardBeecher, who in addition to being a noted minister,author, and public speaker, was brother to HarrietWard Beecher, arguably the most popular Americannovelist of the mid-nineteenth century and authorof the best-selling novel Uncle Tom's Cabin.
With the Henry Ward Beecher poster, all of the keyelements that would come to characterize a HatchShow Print design were in place: late nineteenth-centurytypography, letterpress printing technology,woodblocks, and metal type.
Another Hatch job from this period (circa 1885) provides the earliest example of aHatch show poster. This dodger featured Margaret Mather, "the World's Greatest Juliet,"performing in Romeo and Juliet during her "First Appearance in Nashville." We can smiletoday at the dated show business references to "The Most Complete and ExpensiveRepresentation of Shakespearean Plays Ever Given to the World," the company of120 people "Whose Ages Range from 5 to 75 Years," the "4 Carloads of Scenery," andthe ticket prices listed under one dollar, "notwithstanding the tremendous expensesattached to this production." But posters like this were very effective publicity. Howeverwordy, the advertising slogans of the day connected with the public. (Margaret Matherherself had the interesting distinction of being married for a short time to Col. GustavPabst, son of Fredrick Pabst, founder of the Pabst Brewing Company.)
Around this time, the Hatch brothers gained a significant show client in the thrivingrealm of vaudeville productions, with the New York-based Keith-Albee-Orpheum theaterchain (one of the nation's oldest) ordering Hatch posters regularly to promotevaudeville shows throughout its chain of theaters. Hatch also managed to catch the firstmass-media wave of the post-vaudeville era: motion pictures. Two small Hatch woodblockshave survived in the current-day collections of Hatch, carved with the names ofWilliam S. Hart and Tom Mix, probably the most popular western stars of the silentfilm era. Hart starred in more than sixty silent films in eleven years with such memorabletitles as Hell's Hinges (1916), Blue Blazes Rawden (1918), and Three Word Brand(1921). Tom Mix, by contrast, was a much more prolific actor and colorful characterwhooften "With His Wonder Horse Tony"starred in more than three hundredfilms and started a circus after the "talkies" took a toll on his film career in the early1930s. The posters made from these blocks were used regionally by movie theaters inthe South to entice customers through their doors.
Even as Hatch was becoming involved in producing show posters that mirrored the historyof American entertainment, the firm often had to rely on the bread-and-butterprint jobs brought by businesses, organizations, and people of its own community. Inthe first two decades of the twentieth century, the Hatch brothers printed work for avariety of nonentertainment purposes, such as evangelistic services, Fisk University programs,farm posters, houses-for-sale, contests, tickets and election ballots, the TennesseeState Fair, the Vanderbilt Athletic Association, the Presbyterian Mission School, and theWhite Front Cafe. The same basic balance of print jobs is maintained at the shop tothis day: some of these jobs still comprise part of a typical Hatch work load.
Still, show printing remained the Hatch brothers' primary occupation, as the name ofthe business would soon make clear. A Hatch advertisement placed in the December18, 1920 edition of entertainment trade magazine The Billboard wished its readership"The Season's Greetings." Under this heading appeared the first known usage of"Hatch Show Print," in bold letters and over the smaller print "C. R. & H. H. Hatch,Nashville, Tenn."
No one knows for sure when the term "show print" was coined or when the name cameto be used exclusively by the firm, although there's an amusing explanation from MaiCook Fultona Hatch bookkeeper who started work in 1934 and was a fixture foryears in the shopthat might serve as the last word. "I changed the name from C. R.& H. H. Hatch because of their slogan `We Crow About Our Good Work.' I didn'twant people thinkin' I worked at a hatchery, so I changed it to Hatch Show Print."
For all their hard work in building the Hatch business, not much information on the twobrothers has survived into the present beyond a few pictures of stalwart citizens sportingprominent mustaches. They both were born in Indiana, Charles in 1853 in Knightstown,Herbert in 1854 in Franklin. Both brothers were married, and it's likely that Charles'swife, Mary Spaulding Hatch, worked in the shop, perhaps as a bookkeeper.
We also know that Charles's son, William (or Will) T. Hatch (born in 1886 and namedfor his paternal grandfather), was raised in his father's shop andin keeping withfamily traditionlearned the craft of printmaking "after school, on Saturdays, and duringvacations," as he told one publication in his later years. "That's why," he continued,"though comparatively young in years, I was well trained in all branches of the workwhen I took active management of the firm after my father died."
The year Will T. Hatch took over the shop was 1921. Four years later Will's uncleHerbert was dead as well. Yet Hatch Show Print was just beginning to realize its potentialand about to enter a golden thirty-year stretch of show print history, led by theredoubtable Will Hatch.