Watson funds heritage print skills revival

Dan Clark and John Watson at Glasgow Press
Dan Clark and John Watson at Glasgow Press

Industry philanthropist John Watson OBE has helped a family-owned print business maintain the letterpress printing tradition by making a big donation to its work.

Watson ran Glasgow-based label printing specialist John Watson & Co for 50 years before selling it to US group Multi Color Corporation almost a decade ago.

He set up the The Watson Foundation after retiring, and via the foundation he gives to charities and provides a helping hand to young entrepreneurs.

The foundation has now made a “sizeable” donation to Glasgow Press, which will boost its efforts to preserve and celebrate traditional printing methods.

Dan Clark, who runs Glasgow Press with his family, said: “Letterpress printing is on the red list for endangered crafts and we’re keen to try and keep it alive.

“There aren’t any college courses for anyone who wants to be a letterpress printer as far as we know, so by trying to make things more accessible, by getting people in for courses or introducing children into this method of printing, we are trying to keep this trade going a bit longer.”

Govan-based Glasgow Press was set up in 1960 by Clark’s father, also called Dan, who is now 88 and still works part-time in the business.

Dan Clark junior added “We are immensely grateful to John Watson and The Watson Foundation for this generous and substantial funding. We will be sure to put the money to good use engaging with the local community and more widely given that we share John Watson’s long-held social justice credentials as well as his passion for printing.”

The Watson Foundation had previously worked with the Scottish Printing Archival Trust to produce booklets detailing the Glasgow Print Trail and the Edinburgh Print Trail, explaining why printing was so important to both cities.

Watson said that, for him, preserving traditional printing methods “is a labour of love”.

“Most people associated with the printing industry generally agree that there have been more fundamental changes in the last 50 years than in the preceding centuries since Johannes Gutenberg invented printing from movable type in 1450.

“It is worth remembering that printing was a mainstay of Glasgow’s industry – third only in importance to heavy engineering and shipbuilding,” he noted.

“The pace of change has been unrelenting and with technology and new processes, ways of communicating the printed word have changed out of all recognition. Sadly, the industry has, too, and many of the companies have fallen by the wayside.

“This is why it is vital to ensure traditional print methods such as letterpress printing is not forgotten and Glasgow Press are leading the way with their community outreach initiative. I’m pleased to be supporting it and wish them well.”

Glasgow Press has set up a community interest company called Letterspace to promote the letterpress workshops to schools and communities.