Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Beginnings

I have always been fascinated with Letterpress, well, printing in general. The idea of creating something by hand, and then stepping away to let the "machines" take over. It is a process that lets you distance yourself, in some senses, from art that you have worked very intimately with. In college I loved being in the print shop- the large heavy presses- the inks, paper, the smells ( which some would say isn't always too healthy). It always fascinated me that things so large and heavy, could ultimately produced delicate works of art.

Letterpress was a passion that came about later, after college and after teaching. In fact, I would like to say it happened almost by accident. Kinda a collision of chance and desire. You see we were living in remote upstate New York at the time and I stumbled on a Kelsey table top printer. (If you are familiar with printing and letterpress you know that the first Kelsey's were difficult to get impressions on. I am pretty sure this is a first one judging by the ornate curves and the writing on the side)(Sorry if I have offended any of you loyal Kelsey's out there by the way) But that didn't matter. I was hooked. The press still had rollers (which thanks to the condition that they were stored- still usable- no cracks or dings.), wood planer, mallet, composing stick and the last flyer it had printed still on tympan. Oh, and the sound it makes when it inks and the plate rotates- awesome...But probably the most fascinating was the cabinet that came with it. Yep, thirteen cases filled, most with two to three fonts. It had it all; script, san-serif, wooden type, italics, 6pt to 30pt, ornaments!!! Of course, nothing that great comes without a price, a mouse or mice had made their home in one of the cases and I had to spend a descent amount of time cleaning it out.

Here I will pause and add some info about type and typesetting. Obviously, computers are a relatively new invention- but printing has been around for centuries. What most people don't know is how labor intensive printing is. For instance, take this posting- lots and lots of letters. (Probably more words than most care to read...) If I were to "set" this, each letter, space or punctuation would be a physical piece of type. That's a great deal of metal. And what if you forgot a word- no clicking- you would have to figure out how to insert it. You might have to move everything- every piece.... Amazing how much work it is, and how we take it all for granted. Enough of that, I will tell you that one of the first things I set I set it mirror image- and when I proofed it there was a great laugh to go around the room (yah I know moron).

Back to the Kelsey-that was how this really all started. A chance find, a love of printing and a fascination with letterpress. We worked with it- but I started to feel disappointed with the results and knew I wanted something more- something different- something reliable...

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