Hatch Show Print is a Nashville icon

Advertising without posters is like fishing without worms.—The Hatch  Brothers

In this age of cheap ink jet printers, some people have lost appreciation for the intricate work that old-fashioned letterpress printing entails. But not Hatch Show Print in downtown Nashville, Tennessee, which has been churning out advertising posters since it opened in the 19th century.  Using techniques from the 1500s that meld designing and printing into a creative art form, this shop is still producing concert posters for a medley of stars.

Hatch Show Print, Nashville“Preservation through production,” is the motto of manager, curator, and chief designer Jim Sherraden, who has been running the shop and creating original artwork based on the antique process since 1992.  An established song writer, he became enthralled by the archives at Hatch, including a conglomerate of more than 10,000 old-style wooden type face blocks, and began efforts to revive the store’s glorious past as early as 1984.  Once in danger of being destroyed, these antique blocks and the presses that use them not only were saved from destruction but they are in daily use producing handcrafted posters that are in high demand from entertainers and the private sector.

Part working print shop and part historical archive, Hatch annually attracts more than 25,000 visitors—fans casually drawn in by the assemblage of placards featuring their favorite performers, the building’s museum-like appearance, and the bustling work-in-progress atmosphere.  Located at 316 Broadway, it’s in the heart of Nashville’s music district.

Walk inside, and you’ll see an entire wall covered–clear up to the ceiling–with posters for Grand Old Opry stars like Johnny Cash, Tammy Wynette, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, and Bill Monroe.  Contemporary clients include Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Shania Twain, Wynona Judd, and Coldplay.  The shop is crowded with shelves and cabinets filled with basswood and maple wood blocks, thousands of photo plates, countless drawers of wood and metal type, and 14 historic printing presses.  Staff and interns work diligently mixing ink colors, sorting through and selecting font sizes, and setting type for anything from concert or wedding posters to advertisements for jeans or barbeque sauce.Hatch Show print-Nashville

Started by Charles and Herbert Hatch in 1879, the business flourished during the early 20th century—a time when show posters created the excitement that sold the show.  Their posters adorned buildings and barns to announce any circus, minstrel show, vaudeville act, or carnival that came to town.  As country music entered its golden age, Hatch captured the magic with its simplicity and balance between text and style.   An unmistakable Hatch “look” developed as part of the southern entertainment culture.

Hatch-NashvilleNow owned and operated by the Country Music Hall of Fame, Hatch Show Print has moved into a second golden era as a non-profit organization dedicated to reinstating and perpetuating a Nashville icon that has spanned three centuries.  Poster production, letterpress printing, and reprinting from woodblock prints left by Will Hatch are accomplishing that task.

Today, Hatch posters are sold as concession items for Willie Nelson’s concerts, and it’s not unusual for B. B. King to order 7,000 posters a year for sale at concert concessions. The shop sells copies of vintage posters as well as monoprints created by Sherraden from detailed woodblock images that helped define the look of country music during the 1940s and 1950s.

Many posters are now collectors’ items, especially popular with Americana buffs.  “There’s a humanity and organic feel to these posters that’s missing with modern print technology,” Sherraden says.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Read more articles by Beverly at Going on Adventures and Austin Adventure Travel