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Job Presses and Printer's Ink: History of Townships Printing on Display at Colby-Curtis Museum

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--June 18, 2012.

Following the annual meeting of the Stanstead Historical Society last weekend, Colby-Curtis Museum Director-Curator Pierre Rastoul provided the public with a sneak peak at a new summer exhibition that he has been working on. Set up in the old doctor’s office at the back of the museum, the show is called “Pioneer Printers in the Townships,” and looks back at the past two centuries (or so) of newspaper, book and job printing in the region.

larger_printing.2.jpgThe exhibition is not yet completely finished, and the captions still have to be installed, but it should be a fascinating exhibition once it officially opens on June 23.

Rastoul has a keen personal interest in the pioneer printers of the Townships. Indeed, while showing off some of the objects in the exhibition, he admitted to being something of “a kid in a candy shop” when he is surrounded by all of the old artifacts from the printing trade.

And artifacts there are. Among other gems in this show, visitors will find two working “job presses” -- so named because they were used to print odd printing jobs, such as posters and handbills – as opposed to larger newspapers.

Not surprisingly, the exhibition features examples of all of the Townships’ early newspapers, some of which are now extremely rare. Titles include: The British Colonist and Saint Francis Advertiser, which was the very first newspaper published in the Eastern Townships.

Printed in Stanstead by pioneer printer Silas Horton Dickerson in the 1820s and 1830s, the British Colonist and its publisher are near legendary figures in Townships lore. Dickerson was an early crusader for the cause of freedom of the press, and he paid for it dearly – by being driven out of business by a Sherbrooke judge whose court judgements he ridiculed in his paper.

But Dickerson’s paper, which was produced using recycled rags, was only the first in a long line of papers, some of them very short-lived. The Stanstead Journal, which is still being printed today, got its start in the 1840s, and was founded by an American named Leroy Robinson.

Numerous artifacts in this show, in fact, once belonged to the Journal. These include the heavy cast iron job presses, cases of printer’s type, printer’s marble-top tables, ink rollers, and many other items from the heyday of that newspaper.

larger_printing.3.jpgOther papers on display in this exhibition include the St. Francis Courier and Sherbrooke Gazette (renamed the Stanstead Gazette when its publisher fled from persecution in Sherbrooke to reopen his business on the border); The Frontier Sentinel; The Canadian Patriot (a radical sheet printed during the 1837-1838 Rebellions for a few weeks from the safety of Derby Line, Vermont); The Stanstead Advertiser; and several others.

Also on view are a host of other products of the printer’s trade. These include handbills, programs, leaflets, tickets, books, broadsides, and other items.

Broadsides were inexpensively produced posters that advertised everything from traveling circuses to county fairs. Some of the most famous broadsides were “wanted” posters. In fact, one of these is on display, and calls the public’s attention to the fact that a child (Charles Allen Thorndike Rice) had been kidnapped, and that a $500 reward was being offered for his safe return.

A nearly complete turn-of-the-century post office has been set up in the doctor’s office, and is one of the highlights of this exhibition. This unusual piece comes complete with the original wicket through which postal business in Stanstead was once conducted.

According to Pierre Rastoul, the museum actually hopes to have the presses working in the coming weeks, so that visitors will be able to take away with them unique souvenirs, such as posters and postcards that they themselves helped to create using antique type and rolled-on ink.

“Pioneer Printers in the Townships” will be on view at the Colby-Curtis Museum (535 Dufferin, Stanstead) until December of 2013. For more information, call (819) 876-7322.