The Glasgow-based entrepreneur built up his business John Watson and Company, which was a specialist in labels for Scotch Whisky, over a period of five decades, before selling it in 2013 to Multi-Colour Corporation of Ohio.
Since then, he has largely devoted his time to philanthropy through The Watson Foundation, which has now made a “sizeable” donation to Glasgow Press.
The Govan-based community interest company said the funding would “turbo charge” its efforts to preserve and celebrate traditional printing methods, which it hopes to highlight through a series of workshops and learning opportunities.
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Over many years, the company collected wood and metal type along with printing presses that would otherwise be discarded due to changes in printing technology.
The organisation’s main focus is on letterpress printing. It’s a type of relief print that involves raising the surface of images or letters and pressing them into paper. The words can be typeset manually, letter by letter and then printed using cast iron presses that are sometimes more than 100 years.
Dan Clark, who runs Glasgow Press with his family, said: “Letterpress printing is on the red list for endangered crafts, and we’re keen to try and keep it alive.
“There aren’t any college courses for anyone who wants to be a letterpress printer as far as we know, so by trying to make things more accessible, by getting people in for courses or introducing children into this method of printing, we are trying to keep this trade going a bit longer.”
Mr Clark’s father, also Dan, continues to work part-time in the business, aged 88. After completing his apprenticeship, he began as a messenger at a printing works in the 1940s. In 1960, he opened the family business.
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Dan Clark junior added: “We are immensely grateful to John Watson and The Watson Foundation for this generous and substantial funding.
“We will be sure to put the money to good use engaging with the local community and more widely given that we share John Watson’s long-held social justice credentials as well as his passion for printing.
“The boom in digital printing has eclipsed letterpress printing and we are proud to be making the case for the letterpress process. We are sure that engaging with the community in our Govan home and beyond will capture the public’s imagination and spark renewed interest in printing.”
Mr Watson described his efforts to help preserve traditional printing methods in Scotland as a “labour of love”. The Watson Foundation and the Scottish Printing Archival Trust produced booklets in 2018 entitled The Glasgow Print Trail & The Edinburgh Print Trail, which examined why printing is so important for both cities.
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Mr Watson said: “Preserving traditional printing methods for me is a labour of love.
“Most people associated with the printing industry generally agree that there have been more fundamental changes in the last 50 years than in the preceding centuries since Johannes Gutenberg invented printing from movable type in 1450.
“It is worth remembering that printing was a mainstay of Glasgow’s industry – third only in importance to [the] Shipbuilding and heaving engineers [sectors].
“The pace of change has been unrelenting and with technology and new processes, ways of communicating the printed word have changed out of all recognition. Sadly, the industry has too, and many of the companies have fallen by the wayside.
“This is why it is vital to ensure traditional print methods such as letterpress printing is not forgotten, and Glasgow Press are leading the way with their community outreach initiative. I’m pleased to be supporting it and wish them well.”
Alongside his support for traditional printing, Mr Watson is long-term backer of the Social Bite co-founded by entrepreneur Josh Littlejohn to tackle homelessness. In May, it was revealed that The Watson Foundation was a major backer of the newest Social Bite café in Glasgow, based in Sauchiehall Street close to Buchanan Galleries.
Social Bite is a cafe chain founded in 2012 by Mr Littlejohn, Alice Thompson and others to offer jobs to those who were homeless or had difficulty finding employment. Its cafes offer a “pay it forward” scheme which allows the public to buy a meal or hot drink for someone in need.