Letterpress is the printing method for over five centuries until offset printing came about and put letterpress into a retirement home for grannies. Don’t worry though, letterpress has made a successful comeback in recent years with a boom of letterpress shops popping up here and there as well as a community of dedicated hobbyists to keep it alive and well.
Do not think that letterpress is as simple as just pressing a plate on paper. It is no easy task. Glory has told of a semester spent learning the letterpress method but still could not produce a decent piece of letterpress printout. In addition to operating the machine, there are the typesetting, the adjustment of the [real and actual!] leading, working out the ink saturation, the pressure of the press, the registration of the paper, the maintenance of the each and every piece of hardware. One must become the machine’s absolute best friend in order to produce decent work.
We’ve recently found this local letterpress shop aptly named “Letuspress“. Thompson, the owner of the shop, is a true craftsman and is surrounded by them – the mother is a florist and painter, the girlfriend an established hand bookbinder, and the man himself a carpenter, photographer, handyman, and of course proud owner of a range of letterpress machines. We were ushered into his workshop of his “precious” – the Original Heidelberg. We just could not take our eyes off its exquisite gears, the vintage metal knobs and buttons, and the sign “Original Heidelberg” high and proud above the machine (which acts the safety switch for the machine).
Thompson has made our artworks into polymer plates of the exact mirror image. After filling the rollers with ink, some fine-tuning of the plate position, and lastly the pressure the press – there the Heidelberg goes. Graceful is the only right word to describe its work. The suction of a single sheet of paper, the turn of the “windmill” arms shuffling the paper to the press, the delicate and exact weight of the plate pressed on the paper, the resulting stack of grace with the perfectly debossed depth and the aroma of fresh ink – it’s the feeling you get when you pick up a freshly baked loaf of bread from the oven. This – is one of those moments when you can’t help but marvel at the elegant combination of paper and ink.
Thank you Thompson for bringing us up close and personal with the artform called letterpress. We just can’t wait to create lovely paper stationery for this revived classic printing method.