International Printing Museum

Mark Barbour of the International Printing Museum highlights unique printing presses, fun printing trivia, and fantastic finds in the Carson, California museum. Come take a look!

The International Printing Museum in Carson, California, just south of downtown Los Angeles, is home to one of the largest collections of working antique printing presses in the part of this world that enjoys a type height of .918! Besides an extensive collection of metal and wood type, somewhere around 5,000 fonts, the Printing Museum is also home to some very unusual and rare printing presses. 

Of particular interest, while we focus this week on letterpress and type high, are the platen presses in the museum’s collections, presses that became the workhorse and the staple of every printing shop in America during the 19th and 20th centuries. Today’s book artists and letterpress enthusiasts are well familiar with the C & P Press, well described as the Ford 150 of printing presses. But have you heard of Gordon and his dream with Ben Franklin that birthed the modern platen press? Have your fingers ever been close to Gordon’s early press known as an Alligator (for good reason!)? What about Ruggles and his Jobber that made it to the California goldfields, and has a story to tell about Alcatraz and the Civil War? Or maybe the press that took you to the stars in 1875, known as the Asteroid?

In celebration of Type High Day and letterpress everywhere, this is an invitation to explore the stories of these very unique and rare platen presses of the 19th century with Curator Mark Barbour of the International Printing Museum… just click on the link to his video blog (his apologies for the quality and the sound…not enough makeready on the morning of .918!)

Why I Love Letterpress with David Clifford: Letterpress Printing – A Life

David Clifford of the Canadian-based Black Stone Press recounts how he started working in printing and then falling in love with the beauty and the craft that is letterpress.

In the fifties, practically all printing was letterpress printing. In October 1951, I started my six year apprenticeship as a machine operator (machine minder), at the age of fifteen. It was at a small printer in London at the Borough near Elephant and Castle. There were three compositors setting type and in the basement, the machine room had two Wharfedales (cylinder presses), a Heidelberg Platen and a hand-fed Arab Platen. It was a little limited, fortunately, my apprenticeship agreement meant that I attended a technical school (Camberwell School of Arts) once a week to learn the trade.

( Indenture – The apprenticeship papers from 1951 )

After the six years had gone I worked in a few different printer shops. One of them was Ever-Ready Battery Print Works. There were about eighteen to twenty machines printing the big battery covers on card stock. Another printer specialized in cigarette cards. Roughly 1.25” x 2.5” cards, these were put in cigarette packages to make them stiffer. They were very collectible with fifty cards to a sheet printed in four-color process, one color at a time. Subjects included: butterflies, birds, flowers, sports, etc. etc. These were printed on small Dutch cylinder machines – Glockners (to get an idea of the trading cards visit this link).

( Me in 1961 on the Heidelberg Cylinder )

In 1962, I moved to Nice, France and worked at the biggest printer in Nice: Imprimerie Meyerbeer. There were fifty to sixty workers. Presses included two hand fed big Miehles, Albert cylinder presses and Heidelberg platens. After the student riots and worker strikes in 1968, I felt it was time to move. In 1970, Vancouver, Canada was chosen. Not much letterpress printing was to be found in Vancouver, so I had to run offset presses (ugh), which have never been my favorite – too many chemicals. I spent about twenty years as a Graphic Designer and in 1996 Black Stone Press was born with one Heidelberg and polymer plates made by hand. Now there are three Heidelbergs, a Golding Platen, a Vandercook 4 and an 1846 Albion, crown size hand press.

(Yasmine (Yaz) on the Golding)

I still work a few hours a week, but do not have the strength I had before. Sixty-eight years of printing, I am worn out. Fortunately, my daughter, Yasmine has taken over. She keeps everything running.

( Spring 2019 – me this last spring )

At the beginning, printing was just a job and I couldn’t wait to get off work. But the last thirty years I really appreciate the joy of letterpress printing.

All In The Printing Family With Two Tone Press

Thirteen years ago, printer and illustrator Michelle Dreher began the roots of Two Tone Press in Kansas City, Missouri. Joining forces with her sister, Angie, who helms the business side, brought exciting changes. It catapulted the growing letterpress print shop into a well-run machine full of creativity, fun & eye-catching prints and cards. They branched out with their blossoming printmaking community workshop. Michelle recounts the adventures of buying a building, expanding her studio for her sky-high printing visions, and what’s just around the bend.

EAST OR WEST, LETTERPRESS IS BEST

I grew up in a military family, so we moved around a lot. We lived in Germany and South Korea for several years before ending up back in the US. I later came to Kansas City to attend the Kansas City Art Institute and loved the city so much I never left.

Michelle Dreher of Two Tone Press (Kansas City, Missouri) creates beautifully printed letterpress cards, invitation suites, and more.

FALLING FOR THE PRECISION OF LETTERPRESS

At the Kansas City Art Institute, my degree was in illustration, but I spent a couple semesters in printmaking. While there, an interim instructor introduced me to the Vandercook. I immediately fell in love with its hairline precision and registration which made multi-color relief printing so easy.

ALL IN THE FAMILY

I started Two Tone Press in 2005 in a super-drafty warehouse loft on the top floor of an industrial brick building. I was later joined by my sister Angie in 2011 after buying a building in a soon-to-be up & coming neighborhood. She has a business background paired with a love for art and helped whip this place into shape. Together we built our own studio with a modest storefront and lots of open space and high ceilings. It’s been a long eight-year renovation journey but the studio is finally taking the shape of our initial vision.

KANSAS CITY COOL

When I purchased our building, there really wasn’t much going on around us. It has since started to flourish with other creative-minded folks who have banded together to build our own unique neighborhood.

Michelle Dreher of Two Tone Press (Kansas City, Missouri) creates beautifully printed letterpress cards, invitation suites, and more.

We even named our new area TowerEast District based on the very orange and prominent tv tower right next to us. It’s been interesting being a part of something new.

Michelle Dreher of Two Tone Press (Kansas City, Missouri) creates beautifully printed letterpress cards, invitation suites, and more.

PRINTING MENTORS

My passion lies in creating colorful relief block prints so I draw inspiration from my peers in the field. Our favorite shops are The Firecracker Press in St. Louis, MO and Tugboat Printshop in Pittsburgh, PA.

FULL TIME FUN

Two Tone Press is where I spend most of my time, but I do love to teach. I have been a part-time studio art instructor at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art for over 10 years. And just last year in 2017, my sister and I along with another colleague, Ani Volkan, started our own community printshop called Print League KC. It shares the same studio space as Two Tone Press. In addition to letterpress, Print League KC offers workshops of other print processes such as etching, lithography, and silkscreen.

Michelle Dreher of Two Tone Press (Kansas City, Missouri) creates beautifully printed letterpress cards, invitation suites, and more.

THE CREATIVE FLOW

At our studio, we create everything from custom wedding invitations to business cards. When there’s “free” time, we create our own line of colorful poster prints and cards. Due to my illustration background, I tend to incorporate hand-carved block images where I can.

Michelle Dreher of Two Tone Press (Kansas City, Missouri) creates beautifully printed letterpress cards, invitation suites, and more.

PRINTING FEATS

With the immense support of my family, buying my own building to create our unique studio was a huge accomplishment. And later, being able to give back by starting a community printshop felt really good. I enjoy sharing my passion for printmaking with others.

Michelle Dreher of Two Tone Press (Kansas City, Missouri) creates beautifully printed letterpress cards, invitation suites, and more.

PRESS HISTORY

I gained a lot of experience working at another local print shop, Hammerpress, for several years after I graduated college. Then in 2004, Brady Vest, the owner of Hammerpress, offered to sell me a Vandercook No. 3 for $400. I jumped at the opportunity.

Michelle Dreher of Two Tone Press (Kansas City, Missouri) creates beautifully printed letterpress cards, invitation suites, and more.

It was a clunky machine that had no motor and a funny little hand crank to distribute the ink. Once I started my own studio, I later traded it for an SP15 from Indianapolis which is still my favorite press to this day.

Michelle Dreher of Two Tone Press (Kansas City, Missouri) creates beautifully printed letterpress cards, invitation suites, and more.

BOXCAR PRESS’ ROLE

We started by using metal-backed polymer plates that we spray-mounted to MDF boards. This made precision printing challenging because the boards were never perfectly flat. Then in 2013, my sister recommended we finally invest in a Boxcar Base so we bought the biggest one that would fit on our Vandercook, a 19×13.

Michelle Dreher of Two Tone Press (Kansas City, Missouri) creates beautifully printed letterpress cards, invitation suites, and more.

I can’t even express how much it changed our whole world by making setup so much faster and easier. The grid marks were totally worth it. I’ve never regretted the purchase for even a second and can’t believe I didn’t invest in one sooner.

PRINTING TIPS

Here is one of our useful letterpress printing techniques. We like using a sheet of mylar on top of the tympan sheets around the cylinder to keep a clean surface and then we also like to use removable sticker paper on it to bump up certain areas of the print.

WHAT’S NEXT

We look forward to expanding our store to offer print work from all over the world. We also recently bought the building next door which now has a gallery space on the second floor. We’re excited to put together interesting exhibits that will include letterpress and other print work.

Replacing the spring on your Windmill’s swing away lay gauge

Our swing away lay gauge makes printing all types of forms on the windmill a snap. It allows the tight registration of lay gauges but conveniently swings out of the way before impression, meaning that no part of the lay gauge will come into contact with the plate or base.

Occasionally the spring that swings the arm back into position can break with use, so we sell a replacement spring.

Another repair that you may encounter is needing to replace the arm itself. You might have a broken arm if you’ve tried to use the swing away lay gauge for die cutting. No worries, we sell replacement arms as well.

In this article we’ll review how to disassemble and reassemble the lay gauge so you can replace either of these parts. Step one is to find a small wrench to remove the nut holding the gauge’s shaft.

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Once you’ve removed the nut, carefully remove the washer underneath. Then you can flip the gauge upside down and carefully slide out the shaft that connects to the roller arm. Note how the spring’s end turns upward and fits into a small hole in the roller arm. When you reassemble you’ll have to align the spring in the same way. Once the roller arm is out, you can remove the larger swing away arm. Note how this swing away arm is keyed to fit onto the roller arm, because you’ll also have to align this when you reassemble.

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To put the gauge back together, place the spring into the slot in the side.

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Then, slide in the swing away arm and align the key hole with the hole through the body of the gauge.

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This next step takes all ten fingers, and a little bit of patience. Slide in the roller arm. The spring’s end needs to fit into the hole on the roller arm, while the end of the shaft needs to fit into the swing away arm’s key hole.

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Once the shaft is in place, the spring fits through the hole of the roller arm, and the swing away arm is keyed in place, you can then put the washer back onto the shaft by its threads.

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We recommend one small drop of blue Threadlocker Loctite 242 to hold the bolt in place after reassembly. The swinging motion of the shaft can work the bolt loose during operation, so the Loctite holds the bolt in place.

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Quickly replace the nut and tighten up with your wrench. Don’t overtighten or you will restrict the swinging motion of the swinging arm–it should be as tight as possible without causing the swing away arm to bind. If you used Loctite (as recommended) you should leave the nut to sit 15 minutes to harden into place.

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Congratulations! You now have a swing away lay gauge ready to print AND the use of both your hands again. Let us know if you have any other tips to keeping your swing away lay gauge working well. Oh, and don’t forget to add a drop of machine oil down the oil hole at the end of the gauge. This helps keep the shaft from wearing out over years of use.

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A fun slide

If you are running lightweight stock on your windmill, a slide can be very helpful. This is a plastic sleeve that fits over the sucker bar reducing air flow that can cause too much fluffing into top of feed pile and subsequent misfeeds. There are several colors of slides with differing sizes of air holes for the particular kind of stock being run. Make sure when running thin stock that as little air as necessary is being used, that your Thin Stock Knob is pulled out and speed of press is reduced to allow more control.boxcar press letterpress printshop boxcar press letterpress printshop

Who is that?!

This hungry little face is found on the delivery side of a Heidelberg KSBA cylinder press. While it has lurked there unknown, it has eaten many wandering scoring matrices – those are the blue strips inside – plus other mysterious dainties. If your scoring matrix or lunch is missing, ask this fella if he has seen it.

One of the Boxcar Press cylinder presses