Century old counterfeit press turns up in PNG

A contender for the region’s oldest operating press is in a small printshop in Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea, some 82 years after it is said to have been printing counterfeit banknotes in Melbourne.

Milne Bay Printing Services owner Delsie Chariton says the pedal-powered letter press was bought by Methodist missionary John Dixon in 1932 from Melbourne, and spent the next 71 years printing bibles and other religious documents in numerous missionary stations around Milne Bay and East New Britain.

A page in Papuan Islands Pilgrimage by the missionaries’ son Jonathan T Dixon recounts how the press fell into the chruch’s hands.

“It had a particularly dubious past. It had been used to produce counterfeit banknotes. But it looked alright to this purchaser,” he wrote.

“The press could be an example of a remarkable conversion. Therefore, while the former owners were on their way to jail, the printing press was headed for Papua to print books of the Bible, hymns, church magazines, and all the educational needs of the theological training institution.”

In 2003 the church sold its printing service, Trinity Press, to commercial printers who retained the old machine and renamed the business to its current name, printing invoice books, delivery dockets and some screen printing – mostly for their fishing business Nako Fisheries.

Chariton, who was a school principal for 30 years, bought the business in 2007 and still occasionally uses the antique letter press to number and perforate as part of her offset and screen printing business, offering services including business forms, carbonless forms, corporate images, flyers brochures, programs, booklets and posters.

She says she bought the printing business as a challenge to do something out of her comfort zone and after getting over a steep learning curve she is seeking a mentor to take the printer to the next level.

“The staff who work for me now were already in the business so I have drawn from their experiences as well as through research,” she says.

“The screen printing side has been the most rewarding and I see a lot of potential in this area. On the other hand, offset printing is our bread and butter and we have reached a point where we need to expand and embrace new technology and more efficient operating systems.”

Chariton is now looking for a mentor to help her develop the business. She says, “We would like to do this as smoothly and cost effectively as possible and believe a mentor will enable us to make the transition.”

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