Blog

Newcomb Print arrives in Auckland, New Zealand, 1884.

Starting with Sir Hugo le Newcomen, Knight Templar of the 3rd Crusade, the family name of Newcomb was adopted and continued to rise to power in the Lincoln district, UK.  Printing ink seems to be mixed in the family blood, with my forefathers Thomas Newcomb ‘The Elder’ and Thomas Newcomb ‘The Younger’, both holding the position of King’s Printer during the reigns of Charles 2nd, James 2nd, and William 3rd.  This privileged position gave rise to Richard Newcomb being the owner of reputably the oldest daily newspaper in Britain, the ‘Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury’, in 1797.

In the mid-1880’s the family struck hard times, and the 9 sons of William and Julia Newcomb headed off to seek fame and fortune in the ‘New World’.  They disbursed to many parts of the globe, with two brothers, Stanley (20) and Neville (17), boarded the 3 masted barque ‘The Firth of Dornoch’, bound for New Zealand.  Neville was to become my grandfather.

My family records are surprisingly lacking on where these two young men spent the next decade, but Stanley commenced business as a publisher and printer in 1900, while his younger brother, Neville, beat him by hanging up his Real Estate Agent sign as Neville Newcomb Ltd., in 1896.

Stanley Newcomb grew his business into a major Auckland print house, Stanley Newcomb and Co., and was well known in the general print and stationery business, and also for printing the Stamford range of greeting cards.  It is interesting to recall that Stamford was the old family seat back in Lincolnshire, UK.  This successful business was sold to the NZ Herald around 1970.  Subsequently, the NZ Herald was sold to NZME, which in turn is controlled by the Australian print baron, Rupert Murdoch.  So, this remarkable history of newspaper publishing links the Newcomb name from the 1700’s til present day.

Meanwhile- back to my grandfather, Neville.  Around 1896 he set up business in what was His Majesty’s Arcade off Queen Street as Neville Newcomb Ltd., Real Estate Agent.  The business thrived, and in later years moved to No. 4 Wyndham Street.  In 1924 my father, Neville Harrison (aka Pat), travelled to Perth in Scotland and the company was awarded the Head Agency for the General Accident Insurance Company in New Zealand.  This was a happy association that lasted well into the 1980’s when the Insurance Broking business was sold and now has a successful business in Parnell under the Neville Newcomb Insurance Brokers Ltd banner.

Just after the 2nd WW, in 1948, my father Pat, and uncle Hal were the proprietors of Neville Newcomb Ltd, and seeking new business ideas.  They were presented with 3 new concepts.  One was dipping dirty clothes in some spirit and spinning it around- what is now known as Dry Cleaning!  Second was a process of thinly slicing up potatoes, rapidly frying them in oil, and, Hey Presto- Potato Chips.  Third was a new process of Plan and Document Reproduction, a concept that lit a spark in the brothers Newcomb.  Maybe it was a lingering memory of their long print heritage?

Anyway- the Miles Aircraft Corporation of Reading UK had developed new technology to cope with the daunting task of producing plans for the burgeoning wartime aircraft industry, and also to copy the many documents produced for aerial surveillance.  Their main method was their novel Copycat Reflex copying process.  Much of this technology was later used to form modern Xerography.

My father and uncle were taken by the idea, and the Document Reproduction Centre was born.  It commenced business at 4 Wyndham St., with a staff of one- the highly energetic and pioneering Peter Newbold.  Our first client was Dominion Breweries, on November 22nd 1948, but our first big work was for the NZ Pig Marketing Authority which held a convention in Auckland and decided to give every attendee a free copy of a plan of a pig pen- 400 of them, and 28 hours of exposing plus another 35 hours of processing, or one copy every 15 minutes!  This was followed in 1954 with the stand out job of the era- the Tasman Pulp and Paper mill at Kawerau.  110,000 plans which kept the company busy for nearly two years.

As our workflow and demand grew, so did our need for increased capacity and technology.  The huge Statfile camera was designed for the British Admiralty, and we got one of the only three ever built.  It had an anti-aircraft gunnery seat on a slide arrangement for the operator to arrange the focus etc- very impressive.  This strange machine illustrates Peter Newbold’s ingenuity as he re-engineered this fine piece of photographic equipment into a far more useful large format copy camera.

Over the next decades a steady flow of new technology and equipment was introduced- most of it at the very leading edge of world trends.  1964 saw us install the first Xerox in New Zealand, possibly the Southern Hemisphere.  We had been in contact with the Haloid Corpn, developers of the Xerox process, for some years prior. Xerox was unable to decide how many should be produced for the worldwide market, so the universal usage of carbon typing paper was used to deduce the likely demand for office copies, and in the end 1000 of the groundbreaking Xerox Model 914’s were produced.   We, of course, got one of them. History now shows what happened to this technology.  Neville Newcomb continued to be strong advocates for the Xerox product and was used as a beta site for the worldwide release of the early large format Xerox 1860 and 2080.

1966, and we moved to Shortland Street, where we remained right through to our shift to Parnell in more recent years.  Technology continued to be a major driver of the dynamic Reprographic industry.  I remember in 1985 ordering a massive enlarger/camera from France.  It was offering us a huge 3.6m x 1.8m copy capacity, and very much in demand for big photo enlargements/copying.  The infamous bombing of the Rainbow Warrior happened two days after we had confirmed the order, and I remember sending a curt fax cancelling the order, but in retrospect, I wish I had made more of a political statement of it all.

Not to be outdone, Peter Newbold engineered and built a huge two room version, an improvement on the French model, which turned out to be a fine achievement.  We had visitors from the global reprographic community to look at what we had done.

The late 1980’s heralded the arrival of Digital Print, and once again the company were at the forefront.  Our early venture into  3D printing in 2008 was a notable failure as a bureau operation, but I am still fascinated by the potential yet to be realised.

And so the story continues- a local family-owned company with a very long history in the graphics industry, constantly striving to keep up with modern technology, while offering a trusted and personal service.

Neville Mark Newcomb.  10/2018

Post a comment