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A Letterpress Hobbyist's Website

How I was bit by the Printing Bug . . .

rinting interested me about the time I got good at reading. Sometime in my 3rd grade we made simple printing blocks and stamped out leafs and flowers on art paper. The teacher had a couple of wood type letters that she showed us and explained that our books were printed by using hundreds and hundreds of little letters. I couldn’t imagine anyone printing our 3rd Grade Reader that way! Eventually, because my class asked so many questions, we took a field trip to the local newspaper, The Catskill Daily Mail. There we got to see the huge noisy machines that made a whole line of type at once! We even got our own names on a line of type that was really HOT! After that we saw all the type lines set up in metal frames ready to go on the big press down in the basement. Going down there was a frightening experience! There was this huge machine running. . . It looked like a steam engine the way the rods went back and forth and a great roll of paper unrolled through the press! And the noise! It was loud! Somehow, by magic, newspapers came out of one side of the huge contraption all folded and ready for the Newsboys to deliver. [It was a Goss 8 page Web Press]

         A few years later, when I entered Junior High School, I joined the Boys Club. Lot’s of different activities were offered: Basketball, Ping Pong, Chess, Photography and Printing! I wasted no time signing up for the Print Shop Club! They had three small presses, all treadle operated. I don’t remember what they were, but to me they seemed like the greatest machines ever invented!

         The man in charge happened to be the Shop Forman at the Daily Mail. He taught us the mechanics of setting type. I took home a paper with the layout of the California Job Case and spent the next week memorizing it!

         I had several great years at the Boy’s Club working in the Print Shop. I became the instructor’s assistant and “Head Boy” of the shop. We printed all sorts of things for the club: tickets, posters, a small newspaper, and all the typical things that a shop usually turns out.

         Eventually, as I entered High School, it became time to find a job to support a teenagers needs: girlfriend, etc. I was offered a job at the newspaper as a “Printer’s Devil” working after school to tear down the page forms fresh from the mid-afternoon printing of the Paper. So, every weekday and Saturday mornings I pulled all the linotype lines from the forms, leaving the display ads and other running items. The used lines went into a steel garden cart sort of thing that I wheeled over to a chute that deposited the used lead into a hopper in the basement that fed the big cauldron that melted the lead and later made long “pigs” for the linotypes. I worked at the Newspaper for my High School years and then went off to College to become a music teacher.

         Military service in the Army followed college (6 years!) and then I returned to civilian life as a music teacher. During all the years college, army and the first few years of teaching no printer’s ink darkened my fingers.

         I got the urge again in the early 1970s and sent away for a Kelsey 5x8 press with a few fonts of type. At last!!! The smell of printer’s ink!

         It didn’t take long before tickets for school performances and raffle tickets for church began to flow from the Kelsey. I still have it and only just received newly cast rollers for it.

         Most importantly, while I was giving the Kelsey a workout, I heard of a C&P 8x12 press for sale locally. After seeing it, I had to have it! It joined the Kelsey press and an increased number of type cases in our new home where it resided for nearly 30 years. A lot of work was produced for friends, school and church.

         And then. . . Computers came of age and Desk-top-Publishing became so easy. No ink to clean up, no hand-feeding the press, no type setting, no type throwing-in. And. . . No Fun!

         Well! I’m about to get my fingers inky again! We’re in a new house. The presses and type have been moved in. (Not without a difficult move of the C&P!) The recast rollers are just back from Tar Heel and as soon as I get the new treadle fitted on the C&P all will be ready.


Web Site by WA2FTI | Updated 12/10/2009 | Copyright © 2009 by David L. Clapper, Cairo, NY 12413