Out and About with the Quill: The Howard Iron Works Print Expo & Fair 2019

Howard Iron Works sign

Photo credit: Don McLeod

I was about as excited as a porcupette could be this past weekend. Why, you ask? Because I finally got my chance to visit the Howard Iron Works Museum in Oakville, for the organization’s second annual Print Expo & fair. I’ve heard amazing things about this Wonderland for printers, and I’ve been teased by the lovely pictures I’ve seen of all the historical machinery.

old presses at Howard Iron Works

Photo credit: Don McLeod

I was not disappointed. They had most every type of machine you could think of (and many more you probably couldn’t), as well as an assortment of tools of the trade. The HIW staff and knowledgeable printers from the community even demonstrated some of presses, which was truly impressive given the age of some of the machines!

Linotype and other similar machines at Howard Iron Works

Photo credit: Don McLeod

The smell of ink permeated the large museum area, with a faint whiff of the melting metal in the pot of the Linotype machine drifting by early in the day. There was a steady hum of interested voices, punctuated by the occasional drone of machinery as a new demonstration began. Samples of printed work abounded, and you couldn’t go a minute without seeing a wet print, held carefully pinched between two fingers as it dried.

presses at Howard Iron Works

Photo credit: Don McLeod

Quill friend George A. Walker demonstrated the intimidating-looking Linotype machine in the morning—a particular treat for lucky early attendees since he set their names in a “line of type” and printed very cute personalized certificates.

George A. Walker at the Linotype

Photo credit: Don McLeod

George A. Walker using a proof press to print lines of type from the Linotype machine

Photo credit: Don McLeod

Beyond the museum was the exhibitor marketplace, chock full of interesting prints, papers, cards and other ephemera. There were too many exhibitors to talk about them all, but here are a few you might be interested in discovering….


Felton Bookbinding

My first stop was to Felton Bookbinding. The table featured a truly massive and beautifully restored family bible—alongside the “before” picture, which definitely showed how much work had to go into bringing the tome back to its former lustre. Also featured on the table were a preponderance of custom bound golf books (apparently golfers are big into collectible books) and my personal favourite: a volume that not only had beautiful gilding along the pages, but also a fantastic foredge painting. (If you haven’t seen something like that before, take a look at this image on their website!)



Any Key Press

Any Key Press table

My next stop was to meet Alissa at Any Key Press. Her table featured a number of postcards, coasters, stickers and greeting cards, many of which featured old prints of famous buildings in the GTA, salvaged from a catalogue printed for the Toronto centennial. Alissa is quite the historian, and very friendly, so I got a great little intro to her work and the sources for her material. My favourite at the table? The type specimen prints, which appealed to my inner type nerd.



Pomegranate Letterpress

Pomegranate Letterpress table

Over at Pomegranate Letterpress’s table, I met the charming Margot, who let me poke through their interesting prints (including some funny sweary ones). There is a signature style that you’ll notice right away in all their prints—bold, bright, and with a vintage feel. Also available were notebooks—coptic stitched ones, and some adorable felt travel journals—and, the surprise bestseller for the day: cute little notebooks with printed initials, selling for a dollar!



Japanese Paper Place

Next I met Paula at the Japanese Paper Place’s table, where I got a short lesson about Japanese paper. The katazome, I learned, is a type of bright and beautiful stencilled paper whereas the chiyogami is screen-printed, with a variety of colours and many with gold accents. (Both are works of art in and of themselves. Seriously—you could Frame them!) I thought it was brilliant to see small sets of an assortment of different papers—I bet they are particularly helpful for beginners as they provide an opportunity to test out artistic ideas and see which paper best suits the needs of the project.



Mackenzie Printery and Newspaper Museum

My last stop in the exhibitor area was the Mackenzie Printery and Newspaper Museum, which bills itself as “the best hands-on museum in Upper Canada”. I’m told that they print everything themselves (except their brochures). Their oldest press is an English common press circa 1760—called The Louis Roy Press—came from London, while the newest press they own 1976 Heidelberg windmill. The passion for printing is clear, and if you’re in the area it would be well worth a trip to Queenston to see the place!



type cases at Howard Iron Works


PortraitAll in all, the Howard Iron Works Print Expo & Fair was a lovely (if somewhat rainy) day filled with ink, paper, and printing machines. If you have an interest in the history of print, you must visit to this magical place … one might even say … case closed!


P.S. Many thanks to Don McLeod for providing many of the beautiful pictures used in this post!

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The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.