Robert Smail Print Works, Innerleithen Posted on 19 Mar 16:00


Paper Tiger have collaborated with the Robert Smail Print Works in Innerleithen, Scotland, to create an exclusive range of Letterpress Cards to celebrate our fortieth anniversary. In this blog post I provide some details on the history of the Print Works, and how this collaboration arose.

The Print Works in Innerleithen was established in 1866 by Robert Smail, and remained in the same family through the next two generations. The Print Works served the residents and businesses of Innerleithen and the surrounding area for decades - printing advertisements, brochures, catalogues, newspapers, wedding invitations, and family announcements.

For me, the breadth of their work and the range of different purposes demonstrates the fundamental need that we all have to communicate with each other. The media we use may change, but the power of print remains critical. In our digital world, a card retains significance and meaning for the sender and the recipient.

Throughout the twentieth century the printworks was barely modernised, and consequently the works retains much of its original type and presses, as well as an extensive archive of printed materials, local newspapers and glass photographic negatives.

The buildings effectively became a working museum, and in 1986, when Cowan Smail was ready to retire, the Print Works was acquired by the National Trust for Scotland to preserve the unique print heritage of the site. 

The Trust has run the Works as a visitor centre, offering tours of the Works that showcase the print process, the machinery and the typefaces used during the era of commercial operation. You can book here, and I highly recommend a visit!

The Printing Works has continued to produce letterpress printed materials right through to the present day, as well as running short courses; I had been aware of Smails for a number of years but finally visited in 2019 to take part in an all day print workshop. I met Tony and Jack, and had a wonderful time making something close to my heart!

It was also the start of a conversation and our collaboration to create the range. That Christmas, we produced a limited edition card, which was a beautiful trial for how we could work together in 2020. I visited the wokrshiop on the 12th March 2020 to begin the process, knowing back then that the pandemic was about to turn our plans upside down. Sure enough, it was more than six months before I was able to visit again and get the project back underway. Further lockdowns and restrictions meant that it took exactly one day short of a year from that meeting to actually receiving the cards in the shop!

Paper Tiger is also very close to my heart, so I am thrilled that, in our fortieth anniversary year, our range of Letterpress cards have become part of a print story that now spans more than one hundred and fifty years.