Letterpress 60 years ago and today

Want to take a trip down printing memory lane?  Let’s crank the clock back to 1950 and see where the industry was.  Sitting in a print vocational school in 1947, here was an instructional video you would have seen:

It sure is amazing how quickly an industry can change over the course of 60 years.  Rooms of steel or wood type, all organized by font class and size.  Just think – Helvetica for instance – size 12, 14, 18, 24 – Bold, Italic, or Regular.  So many little letters.  So many wood drawers and trays.  Imagine printing a book.  Over 100000+ letters all organized neatly in small intricate little rows to create just 1 book.  No spellcheck.  No grammar or punctuation help from a computer.  Just one person, copying anothers work – letter for letter.

This video showcases largescale letterpress but at the same time there was the Heidelberg Windmill.  This press was commonplace in the local print shop and many are still in use today.  Largely pushed aside during the rise of the Offset Era, these presses saw a revival in the early 2000’s and still do have some production niches such as crash numbering, diecutting and embossing.

I can’t imagine many are still used in vocational schools or training at an entry level, at least the ones with true typeset letters.  Today in place of individual letters a metal plate is used.  It would not surprise me if my college course in late 2002 was the last to use that press.  It still sat on the pressroom floor during my last visit just a few months ago, but it certainly looked as if it stood there just as a relic, and not to be used any more.  Like an old grandpa overseeing his grandchildren – grandchildren stockpiled with their fancy digital toys – color calibrators, auto plate hangers and UV coaters.

Have you used letterpress for anything recently?  If so, we would love to hear more about it.


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