Behind the Scenes: Letterpress

 [gallery type="slideshow" ids="1333,1334,1341,1344"]   Some exciting things have been happening behind the scenes at Taproot.  Atop a corner desk in our office in Hardwick sits a cast-iron Chandler & Price letterpress, all 200 pounds of it, waiting to be restored and put back into use. It’s hard to say how old it is—I can’t find a serial number—but suffice it to say these presses had their heyday in the 1930s, although they were manufactured up until 1964. Ours is quite rusty, with a few parts missing, but it brings a certain charm to the office. With some cleaning, a little machine oil and a new set of rollers, it should be up and running like new. My plan: to take WD-40 and steel wool to it until it gleams. I’ve been studying up on the art and craft of letterpress. There’s so much to learn, it’s dizzying. Luckily, I’ve found that other letterpressers tend to be generous and passionate about their art, and I’ve been able to learn the basics with a little help from some friendly local folks. I spent a day with Bob Metzler, of Thetford, who teaches letterpress at Dartmouth College, and discovered why this craft has become a calling for so many. After hours of laboriously finding and placing the tiny letters in the composing stick (upside down and backwards, of course), spacing them carefully with leads and slugs, and getting the whole block locked up in the chase, I printed my very first run of the poem I had brought along. The smell of the ink, the satisfying thunk of the press as I pulled down the lever, the steady rhythm of feeding in the paper: I was hooked. Doing layout and design on the computer is efficient and accurate, and I love the visual nature of it. But I’m also looking forward to stepping away from the screen, working with ink and paper, and feeling my way through a process that’s been around for over 500 years. Our hope with the letterpress is to periodically incorporate into our work, hand-pressed paper products that will embody all of these good things: slowing down, reclaiming a traditional art, and getting your hands dirty. And of course, creating something beautiful—from start to finish. We’ll keep you posted. ~jessie