Welcome to Week 22 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I will visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit PrintALine, an old-school print shop in Malvern, Johannesburg.
Ted Sheasby’s letterpress print shop in Malvern — a run-down suburb in eastern Johannesburg dotted with auto repair shops and crumbling duplexes — will never appear in any guidebook. This story is more about a person, and a process, than it is about a place.
So this isn’t a typical #Gauteng52 post. But when I look back over my 52 stories about Gauteng Province at the end of this year, I want Ted’s story to be one of them. It’s too interesting and weird not to include. And besides, this might be the only blog post ever written about Malvern.
Stepping Back in Time Inside a Malvern Garage
When I was a little girl, my father was the sports editor of the Sykesville Herald, a newspaper in the small town where I grew up. I have a vague memory of going with my dad to the room where the Herald was printed. The room was cavernous and warm and smelled like metal and ink. I remember an enormous printing machine — big as an elephant to my five-year-old eyes — with enormous moving parts gnashing and whirring, spitting out reams of newsprint. I was awed and terrified.
Last week I stepped into Ted’s Malvern garage, which goes by the nondescript name of PrintALine, and hurtled four decades back to the cavernous room at the Sykesville Herald. I have no idea how accurate that memory is (I’m sure Dad will correct me as necessary), but I’m grateful to Ted for bringing it back.
Ted has been doing letterpress for 50 years, printing business cards, letterhead, party invitations, receipts, and anything else that can be pressed onto paper using ink and old-fashioned typeset blocks.
As usual, I was too focused on taking pictures and not focused enough on Ted’s explanation of the actual printing process. So I can’t explain things in depth. But the machines and accessories tell their own stories.
I loved watching Ted flip through examples of his work.
Cards for the Whippet! I was oddly thrilled to learn that Ted prints for hipster coffeeshops.
I was fascinated by PrintALine’s gnashing metal and classy embossed cards. I was even more fascinated by Ted himself.
Ted spent many years working days as a city bus driver, doing his printing at night.
In addition to his Malvern house, Ted owns a flood-proof cabin along a river in the wilderness north of Pretoria, with a unique rainwater collection system and surrounded by a forest he planted himself.
Ted used to be a devout Christian but astronomy and archeology shook his commitment to the Biblical scripture he once loved. He now wistfully proclaims himself an atheist.
Ted says he’s the happiest person he knows, yet he fears the world may end in his lifetime.
Ted maintains “two families”, he matter-of-factly explained, headed by two wives who Ted says get on quite well together. (One family lives in Malvern and the other in the cabin in the wilderness, although at some point they all lived together.)
Before we drove off, Ted knelt beside the car and invited both Marie-Lais and me for a lunch date. I guess that’s how he rolls.
I obviously have a thousand more questions for Ted. I suppose they’ll have to wait for a future visit to PrintALine.
If you’ve got something interesting to print, do it now before Ted retires. PrintALine is at 17A 30th Street, Malvern. Call +27-11-622-8207 for more information.