Visiting The Royal Press: Reviving a 4-Generations-Old Malaysian Print Studio

Visiting the Royal Press, Malaysia’s oldest letterpress printing press, is one of the coolest things I have ever had the opportunity to do.  Ever.

After a couple years studying letterpress, working commercially, and then starting my own letterpress business, it had me thinking I knew a few things about my favorite method of printmaking.

The Royal Press showed me otherwise.  I was happily surprised to be completely surprised. No, not surprised, more like awestruck.

Letterpress-ers, get ready to nerd out.  All others, please feel free to skip this bit:

They had a Linotype machine the size of two refrigerators upon which one would type, and then it would select letters from a drawer inside, send them down a chute, and upon your command, heat and melt the lead letters to form an entire single block.

They had a rule-making machine.

They had presses so old and so big they crashed in on my current reality and blew it to smithereens.

They had walls and walls and walls of lead type, greater than any collection I’ve ever seen before, including UC Santa Cruz’s Cowell Press, the Weisensee Kunsthochschule in Berlin, the Print Museum in Dublin, Ireland, and the city collection in Berlin’s massive library.

They had four languages of type: Chinese, Arabic, English, and Jawi.

My jaw was on the floor the entire time.

Aside from the technical brilliance, this place just echoes beauty in every corner.  It’s everything I love about letterpress and more.  Sunlight streaming in overhead, paper flying this way and that, dusty shelves with records from the company’s last 50 years, employees deep in thought and work, history engrained in every nook and cranny of the building.

The Press is 75 years old, and Ee Soon Wei, great-grandson of the original printer, is on a mission to revive and enliven this beautiful but dusty printing haven.  He wants to pass on the traditions of this amazing method, as well as preserve an extremely special family history.

He’s well on his way–he’s currently preparing a Revival Plan to restore the press to a living museum, one in which artists can work and live in residency for a couple years at a time, where tourists to the beautiful and artistic UNESCO city of Melaka can visit the space and learn about this ancient printmaking method, and where the heritage and story of the space is celebrated.  The Discovery Channel will begin filming a documentary of the revival process next week.

My personal interest and passion came from the interest in the The Royal Press as a hidden beautiful story that led to preservation and continuing the business while injecting new channel opportunities – gallery, living museum while running the business. I want the story to live on… – Ee Soon Wei

Check out the Royal Press’s website for updates and make sure to visit if you’re ever in Malaysia.