Saturday, 22 July 2017

Vintage Printer's Tray

I have wanted a printers tray for ages!! They often pop up in blogland and on Etsy as interesting ways of displaying collections and knick knacks; those tiny objects that get picked up and put in pockets whilst out on walks, little bits of memories or items that are beautiful only to the beholder.
Their popularity comes and goes, sometimes they are kitsch or posh vintage, crafty or old fashioned; currently I think they are popular in a creative and homely kind of way. This particular tray was made years ago by a very good friend of mine, and gifted to me for my birthday with the intention that I should strip it down and make it my own. She left the items that she had originally put into the tray so that I could see what she was creating back then, although sadly as they are mostly organic materials (nuts, dried flowers, pasta, pulses, seeds, poppy heads, chick peas, wheat heads) they were starting to go off a little bit, and something has slowly been eating into the pasta, covering everything in pasta dust!

I would have liked to have saved a few of the larger seed heads as they are super cool, but as I started taking them out they were falling apart so sadly it all had to go in the bin. The poppy heads still had seeds in so I put those in the flower bed- wouldn't it be amazing if next year we had some 'vintage' poppies growing?

I think the original idea behind the display was to put a patterned fabric in one of the central compartments (padded out with some oasis). This would then be the basis for the colour theme of the tray, with complimentary fabrics scrumpled in some smaller slots, and I found some wheat heads which at one time had been dyed blue but the colour had bleached in the light.
The whole display was then preserved behind a sheet of glass, which had been cut and installed by my friend using the swivel arms to hold it all in place.

Once everything was out I gave the tray a good clean (as much as you can clean a vintage tray which was probably used for housing print blocks for many years, gradually staining the wood to black). Do you know the history of these trays? They were first used in the printing process in the 1890s to hold the pieces of an alphabet set. You would have trays of different font families and font sizes stacked up in large chests of drawers, and something that has stuck from the use of these trays to the present day is how we refer to 'capital' and 'small' letters. The 'small' letters were stored in bottom drawers, and 'capital' letters were stored towards the top, hence the terms 'upper' and 'lower' case letters. The print blocks would then be put together to create sentences and words to be used in printing newspapers and posters.

Some of the slots were starting to get slightly nibbled-looking where the pasta had been so I decided to fill the backs of these sections with some pretty printed card which I'd saved from when I lined the bottom of my studio crates. The patterns are so bright that they contrast beautifully with the stained wood.

I have propped my tray on my studio shelves where I can continue to fill it with the little things that interest me. I'm such a hoarder that I won't need any further encouragement to collect things! These trays can be emptied and filled as much as you like, although mine is only a little one- some are enormous, several metres wide things with hundreds of compartments.

It is quite an art to collect things small enough and flat enough to fit exactly. I have left the glass off of the front for now as my initial collection doesn't quite fit properly. I'm looking forwards to finding the right things to put in!

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