Rediscovering genuine letterpress
There has been a quiet renaissance in letterpress printing—a renaissance that has been particularly vibrant in the United States and across Europe. And while letterpress printing remains a niche part of the full printing industry, the appeal of letterpress has driven the price of old printing presses to unrecognized heights. Jon Vost in an article in the Economist titled “Well Pressed: The Renaissance of Printing”, has analyzed the reasons behind the revival of letterpress printing.
Letterpress revival due to two factors
Vost’s cites two principal reasons for the return to glory of letterpress days. First, he says is digital fatigue “a yearning for individualized products and hands-on experience. The other is the paradoxical fact that technology has made it easier to print letterpress than ever before.” The latter is principally due to the introduction of photopolymer printing plates, often made using computer-designed images. “For both hobbyist and professional designer, letterpress—whether old-fashioned metal or new-fangled plastic—has become the latest, coolest tool,” Vost continues.
Another obsever, Erik Spiekermann, described as a “world renowned typographer who himself has returned to letterpress roots, said that “Digital kids are sick of sitting in front of screens pushing buttons all day,” He added, “Indeed, it is mainly graphic designers, followed by fine artists and illustrators, who are propelling this revival.”
Letterpress seen as the medium in which to create
Angie Butler from the University of West of England who herself is a book artist, commented: “Among artists, the book is increasingly seen as an interesting physical medium in which to create.”
Vost, who for thirty years operated an bookshop in Amsterdam, remarked in closing: “It’s incredible how in each country there are young people making books,” which has morphed into an “avalanche of print products, because once you have a website you want the real thing.”
I don’t want to leave anyone with the impression that letterpress printing is not without a learning curve and not without hours of frustration bent over a press to make it create the full beauty of which is is capable. That is, I have more than once [to my regret] kicked my press because I didn’t know why it was misbehaving. But if you slug along with patience and a continuing desire to master the craft, you will find yourself immersed in a rewarding experience that will demonstrate that work can be fascinatingly enjoyable.
For a personal look at letterpress book publishing, you may want to look at the story of Elva Cowdery and her mission to publish her book of poetry, Possible Grace.
Until later . . .