The Wai-te-ata team visit Taiwan and Hong Kong in search of answers to our Chinese heritage type research questions
The transmission of types reflect the journeys of the people who use them. While the Chinese heritage types quietly await reactivation at Wai-te-ata Press today, it was once, many years ago, smelted and cast in the roaring din of Universal Type Foundry in Hong Kong, some 9,000 km away from Wellington. The more pieces of type we imaged under the microscope, the more we wanted to understand the journey of our types, and through this, the journeys of Chinese New Zealanders, its past and future users.
Answers to simple-seeming questions such as ‘when was Universal Type Foundry established?Who worked there? What was the history of the matrices, from which our heritage types were cast?’ were surprisingly hard to find. Much of the type, equipment, and documentation of the Hong Kong printing industry was lost in the race to modernise from letterpress printing to other technologies. As we searched through the digitised collections of Hong Kong libraries, it seemed our answers likely resided in unarchived personal collections or the memories of retired trade printers. Little did we anticipate that asking these questions would take us on our very own journey!
Our ‘eureka’ moment came in the form of a Facebook post. Taiwanese designer and self-taught type historian Chen Xiu-Mei (陳秀美), of the A Zhi-Bao (阿之寶) studio, published some findings from her In Search of Taiwan’s Disappearing Types【尋找台灣消失的字體】project, in which she writes ‘Zhong-Nan [type foundry] has full-form fangsong and condensed fangsong rarely seen in Taiwan, originally from Universal Type Foundry in Hong Kong’. A connection! In this post, we learnt Xiu-Mei and her team had been researching metal typefaces in Taiwan for the last decade. We emailed to introduce our Chinese heritage type restoration project, and to ask some our research questions about the provenance of our types.
The enthusiasm and generosity of her response was inspiring: