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.

Allison Chapman and Why She Loves Letterpress – Printing Passed On

Letterpress leaves a lasting impression on a young printer who now loves to kindle this spark in others. Allison Chapman, of Ohio-based Igloo Letterpress, shares with us how a family tradition lives on in her press shop and how she came to love letterpress.

I was lucky enough to learn about letterpress printing from my grandad, Mark Gibson.  He became a hobby printer in the 1960s after finding a Johnson Peerless platen press in a neighbor’s barn.  He restored the press, joined the Amalgamated Printer’s Association and was hooked.  As his “assistant” growing up, I loved to help with whatever projects he was working on.  I soon had a small toy press that I could use while he was printing.  As a kid, I loved letterpress because of the sound of the press running, the smell of ink and paper and the pleasure of repetitive tasks.

As soon as I got to college I realized how special the time in his print shop had been.  I took every printmaking class and started making up independent projects so that would allow me continued access to the print studio.  I successfully schemed and created a study away experience that focused on letterpress history.  I began an internship under Elizabeth Harris and Stan Nelson at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History.  At the time there was an amazing demonstration area in the museum where I learned how to knock up ink balls, change the frisket on the common press and fold newspaper hats.

That internship cemented my love of letterpress and of making.  I wanted to read and write about the history of printing, but I also wanted to increase my skills.  I began working at Minnesota Center for Book Arts and learned how contemporary artists were using letterpress and bookbinding.  The 11 years I spent working at MCBA heightened my appreciation for the finer points of the craft.  I became a better printer and bookbinder through the instruction I received and the projects I completed in my home printshop.

A surprise move from Minnesota to Ohio forced me to move the presses out of the house and into a storefront.  This became an accidentally wonderful way to build a community for myself in my new town.  I quickly found an active design community that welcomed Igloo as a print resource.  To build the business I ramped up custom work for local customers and launched a wholesale line at the National Stationery Show.  As production increased I brought in extra hands through talented interns and contractors.  Eventually, I gathered a talented crew of artists and makers to join Igloo’s staff.  Through our work as letterpress printers and bookbinders, we encourage a love of making and an appreciation for fine craft.  Visitors are welcomed to see the presses in action as they shop in our store and are encouraged to stop & make a journal at our book bar or sign up for a class to create their own project.

After 22 years of collecting and teaching, I still love letterpress and find joy in making something new every day.

Smitten for letterpress? We’d love to hear from you! Share your story in the comments below!

Rob LoMascolo: The Call of Letterpress

We enjoy hearing from wonderful members of the letterpress community on how the printing tradition has inspired them to their true calling. Aurora, NY-based Rob LoMascolo of The Press of Rob LoMascolo shares with us on why he is smitten with the printing tradition.

Why do I love letterpress? Letterpress appeals to me on many levels, but I think it is the tactility of it that appeals foremost to many of us. You can feel and see the difference. When looking at crisply printed type with just a slight bite into the paper one gets the sense that each and every letter is a physical thing, not a digital recreation of a thing, but every letter is a real actual thing that is very much part of that printed sheet.

My mom likes to tell people that in first grade we kiddos were all asked what we wanted to do when we grew up. Most of my classmates wanted to be athletes, firefighters or follow in their parent’s footsteps, but I wanted to own my own museum!

Yup, visitors always say my shop is like a working museum. Letterpress combines my loves of history, art, design, books, old machines, and above all, it has a realness about it that is lacking from so much of our digital world.

As much as I love letterpress for all those reasons, the reason I do it is simply because I have not found any better way.

Margery Cantor: On Why I Love Letterpress

I first learned about letterpress at the West Coast Print Center, where I was employed working in the camera department. There was a Vandercook Proof Press and Joanna Drucker was printing a book. I was enchanted and watched closely, the process seemed both logical and magical. Sometime after I left the Print Center I began to work for Adrian Wilson and that is when I really fell for the craft. What was it, the smells; the texture of papers; the rhythm quiet, thoughtful and methodical; the mastery of a machine that changed history? And then to see that all the patience and attention gives way to page; a broadside; a book that is simply beautiful to hold and to read. Why do I love letterpress, I think because the craft encourages the practitioner to give oneself over to the process and that giving over shows a willingness to try for perfection, again and again.

Margery Cantor has designed books for many presses in California, such as the Stanford University Press and the University of California Press.  She is currently at The Impermanent Press in Norwich, Vermont and is still printing.  A recent work is the letterpress version of Illustrated by Lynd Ward: From the Collection of Robert Dance (The Grolier Club).

Passionate about printing? Head-over-heels for letterpress? Let us know why you are love with letterpress in the comments below!