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For the love of letters!

The life of a designer usually includes collecting ephemera to some degree. Whether it’s posters on our wall, cards in our desk or matchboxes in a bowl, we usually can’t get enough of it. There is something about the tactile sensation of it all that just draws us in. I am no different. My collections over the years have grown immensely, been cleaned out and started again numerous times. We’re each other’s best historians, simply by purchasing our friends’ work to have in our own collections. The best part is when we can purchase something lovely for our collection and completely help out a worthwhile cause.

The Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum has had a bit of a rough year, in that they have to pack up from their home (an original Hamilton building established in 1927) and move to a new residence. I was lucky enough to make it up to Two Rivers, WI for their last Wayzgoose (a gathering of printers) just this past November. The space is amazing and honestly jaw-dropping. When you walk in, it’s just like coming home. That’s hard to create once, let alone recreate. But they will have to do so in their new space. But to get there they need some help.

For months they have been having events to raise money and awareness to their cause and the response has been incredible. Slowly, but surely, they are getting closer to reaching their monetary goal that it will take to save certainly one of this country’s treasures.

Now I know you might be asking yourself, “I have no idea what letterpress printing is or who these people are. Why should I help?” Let me present it to you this way: Do you like pretty things? Do you need a Valentine’s Day gift for that special creative in your life? Do you hate putting water rings on your favorite table? If you answered yes to any of this, then I have the opportunity for you!

Mama Sauce, an awesome letterpress/silk screen and design shop out of Florida are offering up Love Letters, a set of coasters created by some of the most talented designers and illustrators out there today. To make sure proceeds go to the museum, everything was donated, from the designs, the paper (Neenah Paper & French Paper), and the printing by Mama Sauce. Talk about a set of awesome and passionate people!

So with Valentines Day just around the corner, and these coasters in stunning red, this is not a bad place to invest your money. Those chocolates, roses, and stuffed animals can wait until next year. Give a gift that will wow your special someone and help out a wonderful cause!

ORDER HERE YOUR COASTERS HERE!

Mama Sauce’s friends at Fiction heard of their endeavor and made this wonderful little video to help.

Love Letters from FCTN on Vimeo.

The Living Letter Press gets a visit!

Last weekend I took a fantastic trip to The Living Letter Press (see here) in Champaign, IL. This wonderful establishment is owned by John Bonadies (see here), whom I became colleagues with over a year ago and met for the first time on this trip. The Living Letter Press was established after John started a Kickstart project, raising money for the purchase of presses, wood fonts, inks, and every other conceivable item needed to have a running studio. But the twist is that all of this was used for the awesome ipad app called LetterMPress (see here). But what does one do with all of this amazing type and beautifully running presses afterwards? Start inviting people to visit!

After being invited by John, I was elated! I never turn down a chance to go print, talk to interesting people, and make something brand new! Admittedly, I drove by the studio twice before I finally saw their sign. The Living Letter Press shares space with a commercial printing shop which to me was really great to see: The new and the old, side by side, doing what they do best! The irony was not lost on this blogger.

To someone that would LOVE to own a studio such as this, I believe my jaw dropped when I walked in. With four presses running on motors (one Vandercook SP-15, two SP-20s, and a Chandler & Price) and several proof presses and a Kelsey 6 x 9, this studio can really move!

When I looked to my left this printer’s heart leaped in happiness! A whole wall, full of wood type! And not your run of the mill type either. The fonts that are encased in these drawers are from around the world, including ones from Germany, Portugal, and England. Not to mention all the ones from the US. With work lining the walls, showcasing the use of these fonts, anyone would be inspired within minutes! It was all I could do to pay attention to John as he was talking and not run over and embrace the type!

I knew that I only had a limited amount of time in this studio and had to make the most of it. I got printing right away! The previous week I had discussed with John what he had available for printing photopolymer plates. He said that he had a Boxcar base, which is available only from Boxcar Press out of Syracruse, NY. I “grew up” on photopolymer plates that have a metal base that attach to a magnetic base. But a Boxcar base is very different: They can create a photopolymer plate that is clear, flexible, and adhere to the base with a sticky coating that is applied to the back of the plate. They can create traditional plates as well, but this new technology sounded great to try. Color me excited to test these plates out!

That’s exactly what I did! I had decided that I wanted to print myself a business card, making it official that I am completely in love with letterpress printing and will most likely be so for a very long time! With a little bit of help from John, the Boxcar plate was so easy to position and align with the grid that comes standard on the Boxcar base. Even later, after several runs, the plate was easy to remove and reposition slightly. You can see the base locked up in the image below. The first color I printed was a candy pink and it looked yummy enough to eat! Next, chartreuse! Truly a beautiful color!

I worked in the “work and turn” method, where you run the paper through the press, then keeping the printed side up, turn it and feed the paper into the press again. By working in this method I was able to print more than 600 business cards. I didn’t do the math ahead of time…haha But was more than happy with the results! The image below shows the first run (candy pink) done and ready for me to feed the paper through the press for a second time with the chartreuse. Work and turn, work and turn…

Last, but not least, I was able to print my poster! I was able to dive into those beautiful Hamilton Type Cases and look at the handsomely worn fonts, many of which were over 100 years old. ::sigh:: After a little time, my skills of measuring the wooden type in picas and laying the whole poster out quickly came back to me and in the end it was a thing of beauty!

I quickly decided my colors were going to be teal with silver. Very simple and very elegant. Or at least that’s what I hoped! It was a simple poster of only two runs, seeing that this was my last day of printing. It was very nice to print with the wooden type after the crispness of the photopolymer plates. Each letter can hold its own story and and character. I knew that when I found the “AND” I had happened upon something of beauty. She certainly had her own personality. She was willing to work hard, but was a little obstinate in printing in her entirety. In the end it took a little make-ready to get some corners to print, but we came to an agreement. Mutual respect between printer and type. The final imprint looked good!

After two days of printing, roughly 20 hours of print time, I was as happy as a kitten with a saucer of milk! I drove home with a grin on my face that lasted for days. The opportunity that John offered me was amazing! So I have to give a BIG thank you to John for allowing me to come and visit, use his fantastic studio, and create some amazing work! I can’t wait to return and I’m already planning my next project!

A “press worthy” new addition to the family…

I am very happy and proud to announce that I have added a new addition to my family: a absolutely beautiful Sigwalt Press! Affectionately known as Sir Wadsworth Sigwalt (The street he was found on + name of press and since he’s an older fellow, so Sir was added as a form of respect), I purchased him a few weeks ago at a sale in Zion, IL at a Platen Press Museum (pictures to follow in a later blog post!) I had been dancing around the idea of owning my own press for several years now, but the funds were just never there. With a little change of financial luck and steadily putting money away in my savings, I finally did it! With the help and direction of several friends who have already taken the leap into purchasing presses, I headed North to see what I could find and find something I did!

When it comes to table top presses, historically, most people recognize the name Kelsey as a major manufacturer. In truth, there used to be many manufacturers of table top presses, but in the end Kelsey bought out most of the smaller companies. John Sigwalt held out though. Sigwalt migrated to Chicago in the early 1800s at the age of 16. His initial foray into business was with sewing machines, but after the devastating fire of 1871 destroyed his factory he started selling a ticket printing device that he had invented.

That little machine that eventually grew into larger production was called the Sigwalt Press and came in two different varieties: The Chicago and the Nonpareil. The differences between these presses dealt with the arm location, either at the side or directly in front of it. Sir Wadsworth Sigwalt is a Nonpareil, which later became known as the Sigwalt “Ideal.” I won’t even get into what these presses used to go for, but it will make you cringe at how cheap they were. However, cheap isn’t exactly the adjective I would apply to Sir Wadsworth Sigwalt…haha But it’s completely well-spent money.

Sigwalt Press: Chicago (front lever)

Sigwalt Press: Nonpareil (side arm lever)

The last thing to note is that the Sigwalt Ideal is a platen press. The same concepts of letterpress printing still apply, but I was “raised” on cylinder printing on presses such as a Vandercook. So while I’m definitely part of the letterpress world, I’m foraying into a new area of letterpress printing. To say I’m excited is an understatement, but will have to work for now!

So welcome my Sigwalt Ideal (Sir Wadsworth Sigwalt) into your hearts as I have done and you might just be lucky enough to get a print from him!

Name that font! Go!

Fonts have gone a little crazy. It seems like anyone can take a stab at making their own font these days. Then they put it out there for people to use, over and over again. Then someone takes it and makes a bastardized version with only a small change and it has a whole new name. It’s sometimes very hard to make sense of which font is named what.

Now think about fonts that weren’t even made with a computer in mind. There is no uploading a named font file to your computer that archives the newly arrived font. Nope, all you have is a block of type high wood with a letter lovingly carved out of it. There is no stamp to identity it’s name and you only have one of them. No other letters to compare to find similarities and differences. All is lost, correct? Happily the answer is no! Not all is lost!

There is a wonderful blog called Letterpress Daily that is run by a former educator/friend of mine, David Wolske. I have never met another person so in tune with a letterpress machine and specifically the letter forms used to print on them. Each post he puts a wonderful picture of the wood letter and then the printed version. It makes me grin ear-to-ear every time I see it! This blog not only educates printers, students, and enthusiasts, but gives you an archive to start your own investigating work of finally figuring out what the heck that wood font is called that has been sitting on your shelf for years! I bet if you sent him a picture, he might even know what it is named!

At this rate, you might never get through all of his posts, but then that just means you always have something entertaining and informative to read each day!

To view his website, click here!

You know you’re cool when…

To answer this question, it’s when the thing that you love most is picked up by one of the most major and influential brands in the world: Target. I was perusing Twitter, trying to see if the Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum tweeted. While I don’t believe they do, someone had posted a video about wood type and Target. Now I thought perhaps it was just that Target was using a few pieces type in their commercials like the Dodge Ram commercial (see below), but no! It’s so much better than that!

One of my favorite professors, Paul Brown, would always talk about going up to the Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum and would actually take a field trip with students there each year. Sadly, I never had enough time to go, but always thought of a trip in the future with wistfulness. He would bring that wonderful prints and he even made a specimen book of decorative borders. It was truly staggering to see so many variations and the sheer artistry that I know each took to create. The Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum, located in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, was originally the Hamilton Type Foundry, once the largest wood type maker in the country, which was founded in 1880.

This video is so great! It speaks of letterpress and the museum itself representing authenticity, being a leader of their craft, and being something fresh, even though it’s been around for a very long time. In many ways Taking an extra step, by describing the museum, Target is really describing their own brand. What a great way of informing your audience but working on a nice conceptual level. Talk about strategy!

While part of me is selfish and doesn’t want to share my love with anyone else that might not understand it, I’m glad that Hamilton is getting the attention it deserves. It should be considered a national heirloom. It represents a large part of America’s visual past, which is not something that should be lost. Perhaps now, thanks to Target, the funds will continue to roll into the museum and it can stay open for future generations, and at least stay open until I can actually make it up there!

Target and Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum

Dodge Ram Letterpress Commercial