Ironically enough, the printing of a calendar for the future begins with an ancient guidebook.
At The Royal Press, the printing of a traditional Peranakan calendar begins with the planning of calendar dates. Ken, the operations manager, leafs through a 160-year Chinese guidebook and locates the guide for the upcoming year.
The making of this Peranakan calendar travels to the very heart of the printing press.
Among the millions of lead blocks lining the walls, Ah Chan expertly selects a few blocks of different sizes and fonts. According to the guidebook, she composes them in a frame and deftly dabs printers’ ink on the blocks. The entire thing goes into a proofing machine: she cranks a wheel, a cylinder turns and swallows the blocks whole, and a sheet of paper emerges with a clear imprint of the calendar.
After this copy is proofread and approved, the actual printing begins — with the preparation of ink. Unlike offset printing, letterpress requires colours to be mixed and printed individually. The mixing of coloured inks is so precise that a colour guide and weighing scales are needed to obtain the exact hue required. Ahmad, a Royal Press staff, then prints each colour separately in the Heidelberg platen press — a feat requiring a sharp eye and great instincts.
Next, the calendar goes to a stapling machine the size of a large desk. A worker operates this machine by foot, making a rhythmic ‘thunk’ sound each time a staple is driven into paper. The final touches are done with a punching machine to make a hole in the calendar. An automatic eyeleter inserts a golden eyelet into the hole.
After countless hours of planning, composing, proofreading, mixing, printing, stapling, punching and eyeleting, 1200 copies of this calendar is finally ready to be sold to the Baba Nyonya community for RM 1.50 each.