Sharing Letterpress In Pennsylvania: The .918 Club

Keeping letterpress alive in practice and demonstration is at the heart of The .918 Club. We shop talked with Ken Kulakowsky on how The Club got its start, and the sharing of the tradition of letterpress by providing hands-on learning experiences, educating the public through their museum efforts, and the cool happenings at their recent September Printer’s Fair. Come check out a nifty “walk-through” video of the Fair on their Instagram account!

The .918 Club in Lancaster, Pennsylvania was founded to preserve and teach the art of letterpress printing. The Club is an all-volunteer 501(c)3 non-profit group of educators, printers, and the general public which has as its goal keeping the craft of letterpress printing alive. The .918 Club is named after the standardized height of printing type in the United States. Letterpress was the predominant method of printing until the 1950s but it still has widespread applications and avid followers today.  Printers today produce posters and short-run books, and all kinds of personal printing. The .918 Club’s goals are to educate about the history and process of letterpress printing and to provide opportunities for letterpress printing by students and the general public.

People can enjoy hands on experiences with presses that the .918 Club/Heritage Press Museum has collected and stored since it’s beginning.  There are plans for future expansion of its programs through the Heritage Press Education Center so finding and preserving the tools of the trade are a focus.

The .918 Club began with a partnership in 2004 with the Lancaster Heritage Museum, establishing a working print shop at 5 W. King Street to help meet their first goal of education. After the Heritage Museum closed in 2009, The .918 Club found a new home at the warehouse marketplace known as Building Character on North Queen Street in Lancaster. The museum program was restored, but there is no space for classes and hands-on printing.

In 2014 the Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology offered space for presses and classes. Because this successful program has already outgrown the available space, Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology offered The .918 Club the unused Naval Reserve Training Center building at its nearby Branch campus. This 3000 square foot building is directly across the street from the current facilities. It would greatly expand the educational and work space available while the museum will continue to operate at the North Queen Street location.

The .918 Club has offered workshops and programs attractive to a wide range of ages and interests. Some visitors have the museum as their destination while others encounter the displays while shopping inside Building Character.

The largest group making scheduled visits to the museum are public school students from elementary through high school, homeschool students, and attendees of summer activities such as the YWCA Empowerment program. Visitors to the museum get the opportunity to hear a presentation, see a variety of printing presses, and have the chance to print a keepsake.

At the Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology site, all graphic arts students from neighboring Millersville University, The Pennsylvania College of Art and Design and Thaddeus Stephens College of Technology take a class taught by The .918 Club to learn the history and contributions of their future profession.  They greatly enjoy setting type and printing on antique iron hand presses. 

Lancaster County Boy Scouts can attend a workshop to earn their Graphic Arts Merit Badge and they are joined by Scouts from as far away as New York, Virginia and Texas. Most of the time there is a waiting list for this popular workshop. Limited workshops are also held for the general public. The .918 Club provides speakers for programs at libraries and for various groups, such as schools, clubs, and retirement homes. There is usually an opportunity for participants in these programs to letterpress print a bookmark or other ephemera.

For the past 5 years, The .918 Club has held an annual Printer’s Fair in downtown Lancaster to demonstrate letterpress printing and acquaint the greater community at large with The .918 Club/Heritage Press Museum and its activities.

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