Music printers in New Zealand

A number of printing firms in New Zealand attempted the task of producing sheet music. While a number of musician/composers chose to have their work printed in Australia or England a growing number were able to obtain a good copy locally.

Music printing during this period was usually done by one of three methods:

  1. Engraving onto a metal plate in reverse and then pressing the plate onto paper. This method does not seem to have been used in New Zealand except where music was printed in newspapers where a prepared block of engraved music could be set into the page.
  2. Lithography, where the image (again in reverse) was drawn onto a lithographic stone treated with a particular ink and then the paper was pressed onto it. Coloured covers (chromolithographed) had to be done in several steps, one stage per colour. Drawing onto the stones was later replaced with photographic images.
  3. Music type, where individual pieces of type were brought together much like letterpress printing. There were separate pieces of type for the stems, accidentals etc.

For some examples of how music printing worked the Music Printing History website has some good images and videos.

In New Zealand the first printing in conventional music script was made using the lithographic process. John Varty used this in the 1860s. Smaller companies had advertised the availability of music type from the 1860s but it wasn’t till 1873 that the Auckland Star announced their ability to produce music using music type.

Notable music printers include Thomas George and his son Sydney, the firms of Fergusson and Mitchell, and Payton and Corrigan all in Dunedin. In Wellington, Robert Burrett, McKee and Gamble, and Bock and Cousins all feature and in Auckland the presses associated with Henry Brett, i.e. The Auckland Star, Star Steam Litho and Brett’s all produced excellent work. New Plymouth based musicians used the local printer Hooker with mixed success, Whanganui had A. D. Willis and Nelson could use the services of Lucas and Son or the Nelson Evening Mail.

Several of the newspaper reviews were glowing concerning the quality of the printing, comparing them favourably to anything produced in London or Germany, the centres of excellence for music printing. However, sometimes things went very wrong. There are examples of stems on the wrong side of the notes, tails going backwards, unaligned word setting, poor spacing. Having a printer who did not understand music could be a liability. McKee and Gamble proudly mentioned in their 1897 Cyclopedia of New Zealand entry that they had an ‘expert draughtsman who was also music-composer of note’. Although not names, it is possible that they were referring to Frederick Jones. When he moved on to other activities, the quality of their printed music became more variable.