Robert Smail’s Printing Works is the oldest working commercial letterpress printers in the UK – a living museum of Victorian history. When you walk through the doors marked Printers R Smail & Sons Stationers, you will be taken back to the late 1800’s where echoes of industrialization reverberated across the country. Inside the two-story building facing High Street (A72) in Innerleithen, the sounds of a printing press at work reminded me of all the words and messages that came from this Victorian era business.
Established in 1866, R Smail & Sons was a place to purchase stationery, order business cards and letterhead. A weekly newspaper was published on these premises between 1893 and 1916. If you wanted to travel by steamship to America, your ticket would likely have been printed by R Smail & Sons who had the authority to issue tickets for those steamships to America.
Fortunately, the Smail family did not see the need to keep up with twentieth-century advances in technology. Even so, the business flourished and continued to print stationery and newspapers until 1986, when the National Trust for Scotland purchased the printing works.
Today, Robert Smail’s Printing Works is a fully functional Victorian era letterpress printing works. In a recent e-mail update from National Trust for Scotland, I read this announcement:
“We’re proud to announce that Robert Smail’s Printing Works, our traditional Borders-based printing press and the oldest working commercial letterpress printer in the UK, has been employed to create a brand new range of cards to mark the 40th birthday of specialist Scottish stationer, Paper Tiger.”
There is a warm welcome for visitors who come for an one-hour tour showing various stages of the printing process. Becoming an apprentice compositor for even a few minutes, was an unforgettable experience. Learning to see letters backward is no easy task.