Hatch Show Print celebrates its 140th birthday

Hatch Show Print, one of the oldest working letterpress poster and design shops in North America, and an American institution, celebrates its milestone 140th birthday this month. Their instantly recognizable concert posters for early bluegrass artists are among the more collectible items valued by our community.

Brothers Charles and Herbert Hatch founded their business on April 12, 1879, as C.R. & H.H. Hatch, Printers. 

With their very first print job—a handbill announcing a speaking engagement by Rev. Henry Ward Beecher (the brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe)—the Hatch brothers produced a simple design that struck an effortless balance between type size and style, and what is frequently called a ‘poster style’ layout. 

Hatch Show Print

Hatch Show Print thrives in the 21st century, while its traditions and techniques remain rooted in the foundations of design and printing.

Today, Hatch Show Print relies on the same techniques that were used years ago by the Hatch brothers. The staff, led by shop manager Celene Aubry, pull from extensive archives of thousands of hand-carved wood blocks to produce posters for shows, events, advertising and more. They still set wood and metal type by hand and produce all the print work on printing presses that are between 50 and 100-plus years old. 

Hatch Show Print’s history reflects the full spectrum of American entertainment from the late 1800s to the present. Since its founding, the shop has provided performers—from circuses and traveling vaudeville shows to Grand Ole Opry stars and touring rock bands— with vibrant posters to advertise their tour dates that combine color, individuality, and bold, tactile design. 

Hatch Show Print offers nearly 2,000 public tours and educational programs annually, all facilitated by a dedicated team of educators.  

Now Hatch Show Print is based in Nashville currently, in premises provided by its present owners, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, whose CEO Kyle Young said ….. 

“The ongoing cultural impact of Hatch Show Print is a point of pride for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Since taking ownership of the shop in 1992, we have seen it continue to grow and prosper. This includes the move of the shop in 2013 from Lower Broadway to a space inside the museum specifically designed and built to suit the demands and mission of this icon of design, letterpress printing, and history. The museum was committed then, and is just as committed today, to preserving this 140-year-old institution that has created some of the most important images in the history of country music.”

As Aubry said, she is, as are all the Hatch Show Print staff, acutely aware of the legacy that they have inherited and its connection to the work that they do today…….  

“Letterpress printing informs every one of our design solutions, and just like Herbert and Charles Hatch, and Charles’ son Will T. and his staff, all of us making posters in the shop today incorporate contemporary conversations in design to inform our work. We carry on traditions established by the Hatch family more than five generations ago, and the enthusiastic reactions we receive, to the work and the physicality of our process, and to this shop’s presence in the digital age, fuel us. This shop will outlast us all.”

On Saturday, April 6, 2019, Hatch Show Print unveils a visual retrospective of the shop’s work, stretching from the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s Community Corridor to the connecting Omni Nashville Hotel lobby. The exhibition, Every Poster Tells a Story: 140 Years of Hatch Show Print, allows guests to experience and learn about the shop’s 140-year history through a collection of posters, blocks and memorabilia. 

On view until April 2020, this retrospective focuses on pivotal periods in the history of Hatch Show Print, from its founding in 1879 as C.R. & H.H. Hatch, Printers, to its golden age in the 1920s led by Will T. Hatch, to the shop’s continued breadth and scope of work and long-standing dedication to its “preservation through production” mantra.  

Starting on the same day and continuing until July 7, 2019, the work – including prints, paintings, and screen prints and more – of former Hatch Show Print employees will be showcased in an exhibition in Hatch Show Print’s Haley Gallery. All of work on view will be available for purchase, with prices and details are available upon request. 

Mandolin ace Mike Compton is one ex-employee. 

On Friday, April 12, 2019, Hatch Show Print is inviting the entire Nashville community to celebrate its official 140th birthday. The first 140 visitors to Hatch Show Print that day will have the chance to print the final color on limited-edition, commemorative birthday posters. Cupcakes will be served, and limited-edition “Hatch Show Print 140” birthday prints and T-shirts will be available for purchase in the store. 

Later in the year Hatch Show Print will host two events for the letterpress community, Wayzgoose and BIG INK. 

In 2001 Hatch Show Print published the excellent book Hatch Show Print: The History of a Great American Letterpress Shop, a glossy, coffee table edition that charts the tumultuous history of the company, which began in Prescott, Wisconsin, where William Hatch ran a print shop with his two sons, Charles and Herbert. The brothers grew up learning the craft of letterpress printing. In 1875, William Hatch moved his family to Nashville where, four years later, Charles and Herbert founded C.R. and H.H. Hatch. 

The golden age of Hatch Show Print was from the mid-1920s through to the 1950s. During this time, as Charles’s son William took over the business until his death in 1952, Hatch Show Print captured the magic of country music. 

In 1925 the shop was on 4th Avenue North, Nashville, directly behind the Ryman Auditorium, where, in addition to creating posters for country artists, the shop captured the glory of the great African-American jazz and blues entertainers of the day, with posters for artists such as Cab Calloway, Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington, and Louis Armstrong. 

From 1992 through to 2013, Hatch Show Print could be found at 316 (lower) Broadway, Nashville. During this time, as downtown Nashville underwent a revitalization of the city’s center, the shop experienced a transformation of its own, shifting gears to keep up with a renewed demand for posters from artists and venues from around the world. 

Bluegrass acts featured on Hatch Show Print posters through the years include Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, Hylo Brown, the Osborne Brothers, Jim & Jesse, Earl Scruggs, Emmylou Harris and the Nash Ramblers, Alison Krauss & Union Station, the Earls of Leicester, Greensky Bluegrass, Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers, Blue Highway, the Del McCoury Band, Old Crow Medicine Show, and many more.

Bluegrass music events that have used Hatch Show Print posters include the first multi-day festival at Fincastle, Virginia, the Joe Val Festival, Bluegrass Nights at The Ryman Nashville, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, the Martha White Bluegrass Bash, White Oak Mountain Bluegrass Festival, the Podunk Bluegrass Music Festival, Merlefest, the Gettysburg Bluegrass Camporee, the All-Star Bluegrass Celebration, the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival, as well as many others.

Hatch Show Print artwork can be found on CDs releases for Bill Monroe and Emmylou Harris, for example.

This video from 2008, produced by the staff of the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum, shows life in the Hatch Show Print premises on Broadway. 

Further details can be found online.

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.