Archive for July 2nd, 2009

This is our little 1927 hand fed C&P (stands for Chandler & Price) printing press. We still use it now and then. It’s like one of those really feisty old grandmas who like to wear sneakers and go to parties…


I am having a Wayzgoose this year, to celebrate my twenty-fifth year in business. It will be held in my shop in Fort Bragg, on First Friday, November 6th. Sometime I will tell you what a Wayzgoose is, but you can look it up in the OED if curiosity won’t leave you alone. I’m too busy to go into it right now.

I was just writing a comment on a blog that put one of our business cards on a list of twenty outstanding letterpress business cards — http://bestdesignoptions.com/?p=5384#comment-7802

The author spoke about “ramming” the type into paper and I had to add this to his description:

Having been at this for 35 years, I have seen a lot of changes in the way letterpress is done. When I started, we just hand set everything in lead, one letter at a time, into a composing stick. I still have many zillions of pounds of type at my shop in Fort Bragg, California, if you are looking for any. (I have to sell some of it to make room for a new imagesetter, so call me up if you are interested.) Each letter is a separate piece of metal, so designing was REALLY hand crafted. In the process of my apprenticeship, the way type looks and acts was actually imprinted into the muscles of my fingers, so that when I started doing computer designing, the look of my design work retained the letterpress aesthetic very naturally through knowing spacing quite thoroughly in my body. It’s so exciting to see how letterpress style has developed over time and with the advent of photopolymer plates and younger artists coming into the craft, influences of modern graphic design, MTV, grunge and whatnot showing up in this living artform.

In those days, the idea was just to “kiss” the paper with the raised type, so barely any impression showed. You can see this effect in old letterpress books; you have to hold the printing in bright light and sideways to it to even see any impression at all. This was to make the type last, as they used to say, “for the life of the printer.”

When I came to the craft, many type foundries were still in business, though much of the letterpress business had lost out to more modern methods of offset printing. You must notice that since Gutenberg developed movable type, taking business away from the scribes and putting reading in the hands of ordinary people (royalty and rich people were up in arms about this and the scribes were up in arms about losing their jobs), printing has been this dynamic, inventive, ever-evolving thing, with digital printing now taking over where offset left off (offset printers are up in arms about this). It’s always a big revolution, but I have been so out of the mainstream that I once had a show called “Ten Years of Letterpress Printing In the Wrong Decade.” Now look what’s happened. Letterpress is so back in style they are blogging about it. Even I am blogging about it.

When I opened my own business, in 1984 (yes, this is my 25th anniversary), type foundries had already started to go under and I have seen almost all but a handful go extinct. Most of my lead type is now on its second or third printer’s life anyway. But every impression takes a little toll on the soft lead/tin/antimony pieces of type, so we used to really try to protect it from smashing, or ramming, as you say. It was a point of pride not to let the impression show too much. Nowadays, of course, people really put way too much impression on, but that is the style and I am all about style so we do it too, and I have started to embrace the look very much. I mean, if you are going to pay a dollar a piece for your business cards, you really want people to know it is letterpress! Letterpress has taken on a much more sculptural intention, the message is in the sculpture as well as in the actual information conveyed so you have this incredible amount of juju in a very tiny piece of paper.

We also never, EVER used to do big solids with dropped out type, but have been forced kicking and screaming to that as well, and now we do love the look, though technically, it is a harder thing to make it work and usually will have to be run separately from finer type so the fine type is not mushed up by the extra ink you have to carry for heavy coverage. We have been loving Cranes 600 gram Lettra, of course, for it’s cracker-thick weight, so it can take that kind of pressure without too much flicker on the back, as well as black and other colors of heaviest Museum Mount. My friend asked me why we just didn’t print along the edges, there is so much room there.

Wdcut Flower Pot

Anyway, I am going on too long for a sound byte (!) but was very inspired by these twenty beautiful pieces of art. I am so proud of belonging to this newly revered coven of letterpressers (letterpress is often called The Black Art, and anyone who does this work really knows what that means). I have seen its popularity rise and ebb a few times, and always just loved it so much every single day. It is some kind of magical thing, and has its own power, which is what people feel when they are handed a business card with such richness of art, beauty, history and craftsmanship layered into it.

Very best,
Zida Borcich
Studio Z Mendocino

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