The building is non-descript, the sign stating Francisco Franco and Son is faded, but the presence of the movable type printing press inside is unmistakable. I must have wandered past this shop and others like it a few dozen times almost running into others on the sidewalk as I stared at the antique printing presses inside.
When I felt I had learned a sufficient amount of Spanish at PLQ (Proyecto Linguistica Quetzalteco) to have a conversation, I screwed up the courage to wander into the print shop. I asked the owner if I could take some photos of his establishment and the wonderful old printing machines.
I could not have imagined the warmth and enthusiasm I was met with as one of the owners, Francisco, explained every facet I could understand about his movable type printing machines.
Francisco’s father, Francisco Franco, had started his printing business over 50 years ago. Franco was a sturdy 90 years of age when I met him, still working hard, and had every indication of continuing to do so for some years to come.
The older movable type printing presses the family owned were manufactured by The Chandler & Price Company of Cleveland, Ohio around 1890. Given their age I’ve no doubt there is a severe shortage of replacement parts. Knowing the ingenuity and handiness of people in developing countries, as well as the original quality of construction, I’m sure these machines will be passed on to the next generation in the family.
These particular movable type printing presses can churn out around 1000 copies an hour, not as much as the newer machine the family has with a capability of 5000 an hour, but impressive nonetheless given the age of the equipment.
I asked Francisco how long it took to produce a page for his movable type printing press, expecting an answer in hours or perhaps even days given the multitude of small pieces involved. I was astounded to find out that the movable type layout he had ready and sitting on his bench took him a scant 30 minutes to produce.
One other bit of information I found particularly interesting was that the font sizes we use on computers in this day and age are directly related to the old movable type printing press. A size 18 font is 3 times larger than a size 6 font. While this relation makes perfect sense when you stop to think about it, the importance of this system and how much easier it makes laying out movable type cannot be understated.
My experiences at the print shop are just one of many in which I’ve had the good fortune of basking in the warmth and hospitality of the people of Guatemala.