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.

Letterpress printing at Red Oak Press – letterpress calendars, a beautiful press, + more!

One of the joys of the new year for us is letterpress calendars – 12 pages of pure letterpress pleasure! So we were thrilled this year to receive a beautiful calendar from one of our platemaking customers, Rick Ziesing, the owner of Red Oak Press in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. Turns out, in addition to being a letterpress printer, Rick is also a photographer and has taken amazing photographs of his shop, his Windmill, and his printing. His pictures remind us of why we love letterpress printing so darn much – because everything about this printing process is beautiful! Can you imagine an offset shop looking so gorgeous? (see more photos of more letterpress printing at Red Oak Press here)

Rick shared with us some thoughts about letterpress (see below), and all photographs are taken by Rick. The calendar was printed using the Boxcar Base and KF95 plates.

“We bought a beautiful ‘red ball’ Heidelberg Tiegel (windmill) in August of 2007, in order to make products designed in-house without those pesky clients telling us what to do.”

“Of course, I was not a printer, had never run a press nor even seen a Windmill in the flesh until it arrived. Armed with the Heidelberg manual, Platen Press Operation, by George J. Mills, and Kelsey’s little green book, I commenced my self education. The paper companies loved me as I burned through reams of cotton paper while learning to get the press to feed, then to print, then to print properly. Many trials and errors later, I am able to produce something of reasonably good quality.”

“This calendar was designed by Lori Gray, my wife’s partner in Kedash Design, a graphic design firm in Kennett Square, PA.”

“The printing of the calendar itself was not particularly difficult, registration was not critical but getting good ink coverage on both the text and the graphic for the month was trying. I resorted to running most colors twice through the press, which is supposedly a sacrilege but certainly gets the job done without having to resort to smashing one run and deforming the letters to get the graphic to print. I did some makeready by glueing some tissue thin press packing to the platen in certain areas. Of course, the Heidelberg is so beautifully designed that you can run pieces through multiple times and get dead on registration every pass.”

“The gray wash graphics were simple, once I got the color right. There’s just a hint of color anyway and lots of trusty transparent white was consumed. We bought a hand operated wiro binding machine for finishing as the cost of outsourcing 100 calendars to some drone in a copy shop was more expensive (and frightening) than just doing our own.”

“I use standard Boxcar Bases and the KF95 photopolymer. If you’ve dealt with them, you know that this is a top-flight operation.”

“Here are a few hard learned tips. If you’re running a Windmill, get it to feed perfectly before trying to print. If your final print looks bad, it can be a million things, but I always go to the packing first and use fresh tympan and packing for every run. Roller height is critical and may even need to be changed according to what kind of job you are doing. Don’t overink….as in most things, less is best.”