The 2014 Letterpress Trail, part one

This summer we decided to hit the road and see how many letterpress shops we could visit in a week. Thanks to our friends at Firecracker Press, we have a handy Letterpress Trail map, which is an attractive way to keep track of our stops. jocarWe drove down through Indianapolis to Nashville to visit our friend Celene at Hatch Show Print, one of the oldest letterpress shops in the country. It is now housed in an incredible new venue as part of the Country Music Hall of Fame, and includes a gallery and retail space as well as the actual shop.

hatch11Jo and Celene messed around with some of the large wood cuts for historic posters.

hatch13Check out the beautiful space. Hundreds of cases of types, a handful of presses and a whole lot of gumption (can you say 600 posters a year?)



hatch18I took most of our photos at the end of the day so you don't get the buzz of a working shop, but it was indeed humming! Jim Sherradin was still around, working on oversized pieces for the gallery.




hatch20This is an amazing wall of wood type that measures over 20 line, or approximately 3.5".

hatch4Jo got to hold this large wood type J, as well as hang with the shop cats, Huey and Maow.


hatch16We had a fantastic time exploring Hatch, not to mention enjoying the tasty pulled pork that was on deck after the shop closed. Can't wait to visit again.

hatch14Our next stop in Nashville before heading out was to Isle of Printing. We're big fans because they are fellow Press Bikers, with a mobile station on wheels as part of their Our Town project. Check it out!

This giant press was used for a project we got to see on the outside of the building. Do you see something vaguely pie shaped?

isle1They have a large shop with tons of space for printing as well as exploring their numerous public art projects that are taking over Nashville.

isle2And here are the pie shaped prints, pasted on the wall outside! One might think Jo coordinated her outfit for this shot with Bryce, the leader of the gang.

isle4After our stay in Tennessee we headed up to Cincinnati to visit Steam Whistle Letterpress, friends we made while at the National Stationery Show. Brian has a fantastic shop in the Over The Rhine area of the city, and makes some lovely, vintage-inspired prints and cards with metal type, wood and hand carved cuts, all things we can get behind.





steam4We took the opportunity to pick up some great cards and talk shop. Brian's awesome business cards fold into actual steam whistles, and he paused a moment to show Jo how it worked. How's that for branding!

steam2Another friend we made at the Stationery Show was Maya from Visual Lingual. She is one half of the team that makes seed bombs, little portable gardens you can plant anywhere! We picked up a few sacks and can't wait to get them started. You can find their work all over Cincinnati as well as nationwide.

visual1And luckily for us, Maya pointed us to the American Sign Museum, a glorified warehouse full of signage from around the country that has been rescued from the dump and obscurity. This is a must stop for anyone interested in Americana, neon, sign painting and letterforms.

sign3We'll be back soon with Part Two of our Letterpress Trail, which picks up in Columbus!

If Rosie Can Do It

I am often asked how we maintain our presses in the studio and folks always find it surprising when I answer that we do it ourselves. The truth is, armed with a manual or two and a few connections with experienced printers, keeping our presses in working order is pretty simple. They need oil, and plenty of it, along with a little cleaning and visually checking that screws and bolts aren't working themselves loose. Both of our platen presses are motorized, with the motors running directly off the flywheel. I'm not a big fan of belts (even after successfully replacing a disintegrating one on our Vandercook press), so this setup is ideal. Both of our motors are made-in-Chicago Kimball motors that are period to the presses, and have had a pretty good run of 10+ years in our shop with little complaint. That changed this past Fall when the 10x15 C+P press motor decided to act up. After a little cleaning and investigating, it was apparent that a few parts were worn to what is probably a not fixable degree. Because this press is our workhorse, we took the motor from the 8x12 C+P and put it on the 10x15 for a temporary fix while searching out a replacement. In the meantime, I purchased a treadle for this press as it seemed like a good idea to have a manual backup. Think vintage, foot-powered sewing machine.

Well, I suppose the treadle came in perfect time, as the 'new' motor on the 10x15 died last Saturday. This was most likely due to old wiring with poor connections. This was the throw-the-hands-up-in-the-air moment of realizing both motors are long overdue for an overhaul. I ripped the treadle out of its crate and got it on the press. First, the unused motor mount had to come off because it's attached to the same hinge that is needed for the treadle mount:


Here's the front of the treadle that sees all the action.




I lowered the pulley away from the flywheel so it doesn't needlessly drag on the flywheel now that it's operated by foot:


And here's the happy setup. I printed over 2400 calendar pages by foot (more on those later), which was not unlike spending about 4 hours on an elliptical, only with one foot at a time. This was followed by 200o 4-run gift certificates. Happily, next week is a Vandercook week so I've got a little break coming up. The interns will be getting the workout!


The beauty of working in Chicago, the city that works, is that there are motor shops in nearly every neighborhood. We'll be taking both of the motors in to see if they can get us up and running again at full speed soon.