Dave’s aunt Missy is starting a little business involving letterpress, among other forms of art. I am lucky enough to be a cohort in the process of putting some of the pieces together, including learning how to use the letterpress machine…a vital step, as you can imagine. Last week we spent a day in not-super-nearby Frenchtown, NJ getting our hands inky.
On the way, we swung by the Reading Terminal Market in Philly for some lunch. I couldn’t resist trying about one of everything at the Metropolitan Bakery. Nothing disappointed.
I also snagged an amazing artichoke, red pepper, mozzarella sandwich from Mezze. It was there that we oohed and aahed over the color combination in this bowl of olives. I have big plans for a card inspired by this very scene…as soon as I figure out how to actually print:)
An hour and change outside of Philly, we rolled into the drive of Excelsior Press, print shop of old-time printer and authority in the field, Alan Runfeldt. Yes, that is a chicken coop. Turned print shop. I was slightly nervous about what we had gotten ourselves into…
And then I met Alan, and started to explore his little shop of wonders, and my heart settled into enthusiastic enjoyment of the history and creativity that surrounded me. You can’t turn around without spotting another press. He has well over 30, since that’s how many I could count just standing in one spot. Not all are in working order presently, but he’s got enough parts to start a museum. Which he is doing.
I had only seen old type at the old print shop in This is the Place State Park. I was interested then, but I am totally smitten now. With the technology of polymer plates, which most letterpress artists use now, setting type is getting to be a little finicky and time consuming. But, I could definitely get into it…if just to have a drawer or two of these beauties hanging around.
This is one of Alan’s babies. An original Heidelberg Windmill press. I had never heard of it, but it was fascinating to watch in action.
The print master himself, showing us how the Heidelberg runs.
Oohh. Wooden type! Don’t you just want to hang it on the wall?
And more lead type…it went on and on and on and on. Alan collects all things print from ebay to estate sales to people calling just to get rid of the junk in their grandparent’s basement.
What is it about letterpress that just makes everything look cool? I mean, a poster printed at kinkos and a poster printed on a Vandercook could be exactly the same, but you bettcha I’d want to attend whatever event was letterpressed…
Rubber paint in old cans. You’re getting the idea that this is pretty much an creative person’s dream workshop? I could have spent hours more just looking at stuff.
Here’s Missy running a foot-operated treadle press. The joy in her face says it all!
Along with type setting, Alan also has a Ludlow Machine used for type casting. So, we each chose a couple lines to be set in lead that we can use for printing, rather than needing to buy a whole set of type. Pretty smooth.
Here’s Missy’s beauty. A Kelsey Excelsior 6″x10″ Victor model tabletop press. Refurbished and ready to pump out whatever inspiration we can feed her!
After hours of exploring, playing on Alan’s many functioning presses, and wandering wide-eyed through his incredible shop, we got down to business with Missy’s press. Alan used these Xxx corners to adjust the pressure of the platen on the press. It took about 50 test sheets but we finally got an even impression.
Then we inked up, set one of the Ludlow slugs into the platen and tried our hand at a little note card for Meg. Only I put the gauge pins in backwards and on the first pull of the press, it bent the soft lead type. So, that ended our printing before it really began. Party foul on me.
It was probably a good thing, though. We were exhausted. I love this picture of Megan. Captures the overstimulated emotion we all felt at the end of our incredible, all-day-in-the-print-shop adventure.
So, we learned a whole lot, and from a true printer. Some day soon I may have something hand letterpressed to show you! Get excited.