Some things can only be passed down through the generations, from person to person. The subtleties, nuances, and annoying details that distinguish the products of such an outmoded technology as letterpress printing from ‘looks similar’ to ‘exactly right’ are rarely recorded comprehensively, so we must rely on those who have been there before to guide those that wish to go there today.
Fortunately, in a print shop like Hatch Show Print, there has been an unending stream of folks willing and able to listen and learn from their predecessors, and then pass that knowledge along.
What do you do if you don’t work in a place like Hatch Show Print? The community of letterpress printing practitioners, historians, and enthusiasts spreads across the country, and the wonders of the twenty-first as well as the eighteenth century connect them. You may find that you run into some of the ‘regulars,’ such as Rick von Holdt or Bob Mullen or Dave Greer, typeface identifiers extraordinaire, or well-known makers such as Starshaped Press, Jim Sherraden or Amos P. Kennedy, Jr. You’ll also make some wonderful discoveries of your own.
The Letterpress Printing Community
Letterpress printing is a dirty, messy, and time-consuming challenge that will frustrate you with its tediousness and weight. The reward is taming the type, tympan, and ink to commit your stories to print, more wonderfully than you imagined; and the ways in which you can meet other makers, learn more about the process, and see what other folks are doing with their ink and paper is diverse and plentiful.
Guilds, Clubs, and Community Teaching Facilities
The Amalgamated Printers Association was founded in 1958, by hobby and professional printers, and does include printers who practice letterpress printing, as a hobby, a profession, or a process for making art. The membership is limited to 150 participating members who are required to print four pieces per year, that are distributed to the other members in monthly mailings. The organization maintains an archive of these printed pieces.
Each year, at least one member volunteers to host the annual meeting and conference, called the APA Wayzgoose. The events and activities are planned to showcase both the host city’s print-related gems, as well as all the members of the letterpress community in that city.
In addition to the APA, which has members from around the world, there are regional guilds or clubs too. Sometimes they are affiliated with a museum or historical site that includes a print shop as a working exhibit, such as Colonial Williamsburg, or History San Jose. Historical Societies, and design schools or craft-related community centers can also be great resources.
Places such as:
The American Printing History Association
The School of Visual Concepts
Lillstreet Art Center
The Center for Book Arts
The San Francisco Center for the Book
The Wood Engravers Network
Museums or Organizations Dedicated to Letterpress Printing:
The Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum
The International Printing Museum
The Museum of Printing
The Printing Museum (This museum presents all the processes of printing, as well as a bit on book arts.)
The Letterpress Depot
The Platen Press Museum
Often, you can find a way to get inky, at a workshop or by volunteering, at one of these museums.
Letterpress Commons maintains a site with an interactive map showing museums, print shops, and other places to learn how to letterpress print, as well as an array of articles about all things letterpress printing, from press manuals to establishing your own business.