A printer’s furnisher’s role was to supply the print media with machinery, paper, type, inks, varnishes, washes and driers. From 1804, the Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser urged readers to sell it paper. Around the rural and suburban press, shortages recurred into the 20th century, sometimes because of a lack of capital.
Alexander Thompson set up Australia’s earliest type-foundry in Sydney in 1843; it was maintained by his widow until 1865. The foundry sold to the Sydney Morning Herald and other colonies until it was displaced during the gold rushes by importers such Gordon & Gotch. By 1900, linotype machines had replaced the work of type foundries, except for larger fonts and attractors. At the same time, photolithography took over from engraving on stone. However, colour printing for posters and packages increased the demand for a range of inks, with Collie & Co. offering 30 different reds. In the mid-1930s, Australia had 12 ink-makers, while five of the bigger printers made some ink themselves. F.T. Wimble & Co. and Cowans had become the leading houses by 1900.
Frederick Thomas Wimble (1846–1936), the son of an ink-maker for Cambridge University Press in the United Kingdom, landed in Melbourne in 1867 with printing materials valued at £150. A tour of the United States and Britain in 1876 to secure agencies for equipment was followed by a move to Sydney in 1878. He conducted a type foundry for overseas designs, which he naturalised as Extended Tasmanian Gothic or Wentworth Bold. From 1895 until 1957, the firm promoted its wares through a quarterly magazine-cum-catalogue, Wimble’s Reminder, which championed process engraving and the colour printing flaunted in a lavish edition in July 1927. The firm continued under outside management until 1991.
The Scottish paper-maker Cowan’s sent a consignment to Melbourne in 1844, operated through agents after 1855 and set up its first branch office in Sydney in 1868. Alex Cowan and Sons were manufacturing stationers until the firm was taken over by James Hardie in 1975. It published Cowans from 1904 to 1930 as a sampler for company products.
The introduction of Xerox’s 914 plain paper copier and IBM’s Selectrical typewriter in the early 1960s, and, in the late 1970s, Wang’s OIS word-processor, together with photo-typesetting and advances in the web-offset and other printing technologies, further marginalised the furnishers’ inventories, except for inks and varnishes. Letraset sold at local newsagencies displaced larger fonts, and the demand had changed to one for photographic equipment and chemicals. So thorough-going had the changes become by 1970 that franchises for instant print shops were on offer.