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The Lahaina Printsellers:
a Clever Investigation

by DianneK

Editor's note: as of 2018 I believe LaHaina Printsellers is still in business.

Here's an ad I found in the Maui News, on January 6, 1998

Dickensian sweatshop seeks
indentured factotum. Must be tire-
less, focused & versatile. Exper.
pref. but will train a suitable appli-
cant with superior eye hand coor-
dination. Call xxxxx

I was intrigued. Who wouldn't be?

You must have several questions. First: why was I reading the Maui want ads in the first place. That's an easy one. I was visiting Molokai at the time and in Molokai if you want to read the news of the world you read the Maui paper. There's not much to that particular newspaper, or to Molokai in general, as a matter of fact, so I was just browsing the Maui want ads because there was nothing better to read that day. Now you know.

Second: what's a factotum? Everybody I showed this ad to wanted to know what a factotum was. I think a factotum is like a servant or a yes-man, if you will. Eyes glaze over when I try to explain it. I guess everybody knows what a sweat shop is. Nobody brought up "Dickensian."

Well, the ad continued to tickle me every time I read it. But I put it away in some "To Do" pile of not-terribly-important papers until this month when I traveled once again to Hawaii -- Maui this time. So when I got there, I called about the ad and was told that the job had been filled. I would hope so after ten months. I explained that I wasn't interested in the job but I wanted to talk to the person who wrote the ad. I was referred to the business owner who laughed when I told him that I wanted to interview him about the ad for my online magazine. He said okay and we set up an appointment.

I had no idea what kind of business enterprise I was heading for, or who the mysterious ad writer would turn out to be. Maybe a real sweatshop? So I was quite surprised when I entered the Lahaina Cannery Mall and found the Lahaina Printsellers, Ltd. They call themselves Hawaii's most unusual antique map and print gallery. And I think it's true. There are lots of galleries in Hawaii and most of them show off the works of local artists, and after a while they all begin to look alike. You know what I mean -- the tropical flowers, and underwater fish pictures. This gallery is different.

It has an English flavor and maybe even a faint reminder of the Charles Dickens era, but with plush carpeting, wood paneling, antique maps and other beautiful images on display. Alan Walker, the owner, greeted me cordially. He's a white-haired, bearded man of middle years, with an intelligent and bemused expression.

He told me he was flattered that I had taken such an interest in his ad. So I asked him to tell me about it. He said that he liked to write that kind of ad, and then he remembered an interesting anecdote. When the Maui newspaper typesetter reviewed the ad, he figured that Dickensian was a typo. Apparently there is a street in Lahaina called Dickinson, so the typesetter changed the ad to read Dickinson without calling first to double check it. Alan says he was perplexed about that because it changed the whole flavor of the ad. The paper changed it back. There were a few responses to the ad and a suitable employee was hired.

Alan says he and his wife first became interested in antique prints in 1978. While on a trip to London, they discovered the first printed images of Hawaii from Captain Cook's voyages of the late 1790s. He says he remembers asking a London shop owner if he had any prints of Hawaii. The answer was "no." Then he asked about the Sandwich Islands, and the answer was, "yes, I believe so, over in that bin." It appeared that even in 1978, nearly two hundred years later, the English printsellers had yet to make the connection between the two names for the islands we now call Hawaii. That was a bonus for Alan. He now owns the copyrights to many rare and beautiful antique maps and prints of Cook's voyages to Hawaii.

We toured the gallery. He showed me some original antique maps, and then a line of classic images from Hawaii's golden years by Michael David. We then looked at a beautiful series of pictographs of the islands, and some wonderful hand-colored drypoint engravings of Hawaiian shells, fruits and flowers, all by Steve Strickland. As he talked about his business, I could tell that his work is a labor of love. "It's a gratifying business," says Alan. "It's a really wonderful feeling to handle items, however briefly, that are historically important and aesthetically pleasing."

Alan explained that they are using state-of-the-art technology to create fine quality reproductions of these prints, some are quite reasonably priced. A visit to their website will give you some idea of what I'm talking about.

So was I disappointed when I didn't find a back-alley sweatshop featuring a Hawaiian version of Scrooge? Nope. I was delighted to meet Alan Walker and learn something about his work. Dale and I even went on a shopping trip there later that week. So if you ever come by, I'll show off our latest Hawaiian treasures from that interesting Dickensian sweatshop in Lahaina, Maui.

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