Tuesday, May 1, 2007

The Letterpress Saga: Part One

The Letterpress Saga started, of course, with me deciding I needed a letterpress.

I've wanted one for years – ever since I knew what a letterpress was. I was always picking up letterpressed stationery and imagining how I could do this. But I'd heard so much about the expense and complication involved in finding, running and maintaining a letterpress, and none of it seemed very practical.

Then I watched a short documentary by Chuck Kraemer about traditional letterpress at Firefly Press, Massachusetts, and it tipped me over the edge. I had to have one.

After a lot of lurking around Briar Press and bombarding a very helpful soul named Kevin with some fairly green questions, I found the perfect press for me. A century-old Chandler & Price Old Style 8x12, located in central Washington... on the other side of the Cascades, but manageable because it was accessible and on the level.

See, the thing about getting a letterpress is not so much whether you can find one, but whether you can move the monster once you do. They are huge. They are unwieldy. They are unbalanced, and they are extremely heavy. And in the words of Steve, the great guy I bought my press from: "one slip and it's scrap metal".

So if you're trying to get one out of a basement, or up or down stairs, or out of a tight space of any kind, you have a fight on your hands. And the letterpress may well win.

We were lucky because my C&P was on level ground, in wide-open space, being capably cared for by Steve, a super-motivated letterpress rescuer and collector. He promised me a detailed letterpress lesson, a tour of his fully equipped letterpress workshop, and as much gear as I could carry home. So we took rented a big truck with a lift and lots of ratchet straps and drove three hours across the Cascades.

Yeah, this is a long story. To be continued....

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