Hatch Show Print: Holding On to History

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In a fast-paced and quickly changing technological world, one old-fashioned print shop in Nashville has maintained its conventional methods for producing perhaps the most well-known entertainment posters of all time.

The Hatch Show Print story began when printer Rev. William T. Hatch moved his family to Nashville in 1875. Rev. Hatch taught his sons, Charles and Herbert, the printing trade, and after his death in 1879 the two sons opened C.R. & H.H. Hatch Printers at 22 North Cherry Street (now Fourth Avenue South). On April 12, 1879, Hatch created its first poster, a 6-by-9 inch “dodger” — or handbill — announcing a Henry Ward Beecher speaking appearance. From that point, Hatch was dedicated to producing distinctive posters for all forms of entertainment, including vaudeville, circus and minstrel shows.

Today, Hatch Show Print manager Jim Sherraden credits the unmistakable look of a Hatch poster to the thought behind the antique wooden typefaces and the creation of “a good marriage of font styles working well together.” This unique combination of pressing hand-inked, hand-carved typefaces, woodblocks and metal plates onto paper remains instantly recognizable after nearly 125 years.

“While the poster has a distinct look because of size and its tactile nature, the Hatch fonts — the Hatch wood type in the shop — work consistently well with each other,” Sherraden said. “I’m thinking that a lot of thought went into what fonts would accent each other once they were purchased and used on individual posters.”

In the 1920s, Nashville’s booming insurance, banking and publishing industries prompted Charles Hatch’s son Will to relocate the shop to the heart of downtown on 116 Fourth Avenue North, where it remained for the next 69 years. Under Will Hatch’s leadership, Hatch Show Print naturally fulfilled its most well-known role as a poster supplier to the performers of Grand Ole Opry. From 1939 to 1943, Hatch created posters for Opry entertainers while the show was broadcast out of Nashville’s War Memorial Auditorium. In 1943, the Opry moved to the Ryman Auditorium located just one block from Hatch.

It was only after 1952 when Will Hatch died that the shop struggled. Hard times in the country music industry came about with the advent of rock ’n’ roll. After the release of Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel,” country music lost significant airplay. Through all this, Hatch continued to print as before, as country music had never been its main commitment. However, country music proved to be Hatch’s saving grace in 1957 when future Country Music Hall of Fame member Jim Denny, then director of the WSM Artist Service booking agency, founded his own booking agency. Denny signed many of the Opry’s top entertainers to perform with Philip Morris Tobacco Company’s traveling country music show and then hired Hatch to create posters for the show during its entire run.

From 1952 until 1981, Hatch Show Print went through three name changes and five ownership transitions. The hard times and struggles ended when Bill Denny (son of Jim Denny) bought the historic shop and appointed Paul Ritscher manager. By 1984, Ritscher had the shop active once again and stepped down from his position, appointing Sherraden in his place.

In 1986, Sherraden accepted the position of curator and again as manager after a brief, but successful, stint as a songwriter in Italy. He chose to restrike (or reprint) some of the original Hatch images onto postcards and later in full poster size, while documenting and researching the shop and collection of woodblocks, type and photoplates for the Country Music Foundation. Slowly but surely, the restrikes Sherraden had been working on sold, as did new posters for new customers, and Hatch was resurrected once more.

Business grew for Hatch around the same time Nashville city planners focused on the Fourth Avenue area. South Central Bell planned to build a 25-story office tower on the land where Hatch was located. A series of plans were made in late 1991, resulting in a new home for Hatch just around the corner on 316 Broadway. The Country Music Foundation accepted the outright donation of Hatch from Gaylord Entertainment, which had acquired Hatch in 1986.

The new location had to be renovated not only to support the presses but also to recreate the historic nature of the Fourth Avenue location. Everything from the old location made it to the new shop, including the 56-foot-long, 16-foot-tall shelving built out of old Hatch woodblocks. On June 29, 1992, Hatch held a grand opening at its new location where it remains today.

After many ups and downs, seven location changes and almost 125 years of business, Hatch Show Print remains a bustling print shop. While Hatch is not as busy as it was 50 to 60 years ago, Sherraden relates this to the fact that back then production runs were larger. “[If] you look at old files, you would see 10,000 posters for this person, 3,000 for this one. So, I would guess that during the ’30s and ’40s and up until Mr. Hatch’s death in 1952, this shop ran big-time.”

The decrease in production can be credited to the increase in technology. Exposure from the Internet, television and other media cut the need for poster advertising and production averages to between 100 to 250 posters. Now, many posters are created as concession items to be sold at concerts and other events. Artists who have used Hatch recently include Bruce Springsteen, B.B. King, and Coldplay (who also visited the shop to discuss their order). Hatch employees have also designed CD covers for Emmylou Harris and the Georgia Satellites.

Along with poster quantities, some other changes have been made to the shop, or as Sherraden puts it, “Almost everything is different, except for the letterpress.” Among these differences are the employees. Everyone who works in the shop either has, or is finishing, a college degree and for the most part are under the age of 26. Probably the biggest difference in staff came with the change in social standards. “In 1920, a woman that worked at Hatch probably would have been relatively limited to [bookkeeping],” Sherraden said. “In 2003, they work side by side with men and are extremely good designers.”

Sherraden understands and appreciates the significance of Hatch Show Print and together with his staff, he continues to preserve its historical integrity and unique tie to country music. “We know that we’re protecting an archive, so preservation is important to us. We feel like we have curatorial responsibility as well as functioning printmaking and design responsibilities,” Sherraden said.

Along with printmaking and design responsibilities, Sherraden works with his staff to fulfill the 600-plus custom design jobs per year while dedicating 30 percent of his work to pleasing the nearly 20,000 annual visitors to Hatch.

“We try to be guardians of Americana and Southern culture,” Sherraden said. “With the good graces of the Hall of Fame as a parent company, we are able to do that right here on Broadway in downtown Nashville.”

More information is available in the book, Hatch Show Print: History of a Great American Poster Shop (2001, Chronicle Books, $35.00).