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March 18, 2015
We've had quite a few people ask us about our press and how we make our prints. I think a lot of folks have heard the term letterpress thrown around, and know it's a good thing, but just aren't totally sure what that means. I'll say this-lettepress stands apart from other forms of printing because of the crisp quality that is created from the impression into the paper that the machine makes.
There are quite a few companies that made letterpress machines (Heidelberg, Chandler & Price, Kluge, Challenge, to name a few) but as a whole they can be separated into two types: cylinder proof presses and platen presses. Our press is a Vandercook Universal I. It is a cylinder proof press that was made sometime in the late fifties, early 60s. Vandercooks, in general, are great for larger format pieces. Sadly, there aren't that many left in the world. Their value was not seen during the transition to digital printing (in the early 80s) and many were considered junk and treated as such. I heard the artist Tom Killion describe finding his cylinder press (back in the day) on the sidewalk in front of the San Francisco Chronicle waiting to be carted off as trash. Interestingly now these presses are very sought after.
If you are in search of a letterpress I think it's important to consider what you want to do with it. Weighing usually close to a ton (or in some cases much more than that), they are a commitment. Platen presses are definitely a wiser choice if you are interested in making stationary. These can be easier to come by too. If you want to make posters or larger format pieces you might want to take your time and find a cylinder press. Here are a couple of places to start for either:
NA Graphics (just an overall good source for letterpress info, machines, parts). Fritz Klinke is the man in charge and seems to know just about everything about presses. nagraph.com
Briar Press Classified Listings. briarpress.org
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