W. F. Arber & Co.
By Laura Braun
W. F. Arber & Co. was established in 1897 as a printing and stationery shop by Gary Arber’s grandparents. He enthusiastically shares the fact that his grandmother knew the Pankhursts, and so it happened that W.F. Arber & Co., at the insistence of Mrs. Arber, printed leaflets for the Suffragettes.
Gary Arber's main business is selling stationery, and he does small print jobs using modern technology. He still has clients, however, mainly artists, who seek him out specifically for the letterpress printing he reluctantly continues to offer.
Of the four printing presses in the basement, only the German-made Heidelberg, imported in the late 1930s, is still in use. Up to the 1950s, with all presses working, the business employed four machine minders and three other members of staff, working mainly on printing contracts for the government.
The upstairs typesetting room tells of the long history of the place and of the obsolescence of once-familiar technology. Typesetting jobs finished long ago – neatly set packs of type, tied together with string – sit on the shelves and sideboards, waiting to be taken apart.
On the walls of the ground floor, flyers printed by the company throughout the last century are on display, and the shop window is filled with stationery and office tools from the past three decades.
In his green overall, Gary Arber is the guardian of this realm and a fixture in the local community. People come in to buy their envelopes, files, clips, staples and paper, and to ask for articles a standard stationer might not carry. They know that somewhere in the piles and stacks, Gary Arber will have what they need.
W.F. Arber & Co. Ltd
459 Roman Road
London E3 5LX
Photographed December 2008
Métier, Small Businesses in London, is a book by photographer Laura Braun about small-scale independent and specialist businesses in the capital and the people who run them.
Available from 3 December 2013
Available from Paper Tiger Books