In the late 1870s, RJ Blair opened his printing and stationer shop in Strabane, County Tyrone. An advertisement from this time describes his printing as neat and at a reasonable price.
The process of printing did not change much over hundreds of years. Printing is hard physical work. Skilled workers use large and small pieces of equipment. A skilled compositor who sets type by hand could assemble 2,000 characters or letters in an hour. These workers were not prepared for the world-wide changes in the 1970s. A computer can arrange the same number of characters in about two seconds.
Local businesses used printed headed paper for their bills, account books and receipts. Printed posters were useful when advertising the sale of land. Notepaper showing the senders address was also popular for writing letters. Black framed printed funeral cards announced a death in the family.
In 1900, RJ Blair operated as a printer, stationer, newsagent, and bookseller. His shop in Main Street sold photo albums, scrap albums, purses, pocket books, jewel cases, workboxes, birthday cards, toilet soap, perfumes, dyes, melodeons, concertinas and religious books. He also stocked a selection of toys and fancy goods. Blair’s was also the sole outlet in Strabane for the regional newspaper, the Derry Sentinel.
The large Wharfedale cylinder printing press revolutionised the printing industry. The first Wharfedale was built in 1856 and it was still made right up to 1965. This machine played a large part in the mass production and world-wide spread of the printed word.
Take a look at the printing equipment and machinery that are on display in the interior of RJ Blair’s shop.