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The Past and Future of Letterpress

Jan 29, 2020

There is no way to recall the old way of ‘doing things’ if all of those folks who did something that way are gone.

In the letterpress printing community, we are fortunate. The process has lived on in a small band of working print shops that never stopped letterpress printing; with printers who so loved the process they started it up as a hobby as their jobs transitioned to offset or digital printing; and with a couple of generations’ worth of enthusiasts who discovered the process back in a time when we all had hobbies to while away long winter evenings and Sunday afternoons.*

Among the generations that followed over the last forty years or so, the tide of interest in the process and its tools has surged. The outmoded technology has become considered a craft, and by some, even the means to make art.

Those of us who have been able to spend some time working at Hatch Show Print enjoy a rare experience of working with the continuity of 140 years of a print shop that employs only the letterpress printing process. It is a thriving business with a staff of designers, who design everything that is printed in the shop (and only print what is designed in the shop). The history of those years is represented in the blocks, the tools, and the business records and archive of posters, and provides an environment that is rich with the history and knowledge of the practice of letterpress printing, and a heady dose of ongoing documentation of ‘how it is’  and ‘how it can be’ versus ‘how it was.’

In this video, you can meet some of the characters who contribute to our knowledge about and feed our enthusiasm for letterpress printing, as well as some of us keen to push the boundaries of the medium, and pass on what we’ve learned to inky-hearted kindred spirits in the future.

*The documentary, Pressing On: The Letterpress Film, presents a wonderful story through a series of portraits of some of these ‘characters.’

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