Letterpress Printing: Past, Present, Future at the University of Leeds

Last week we went to the University of Leeds for the final in a series of conferences on letterpress printing. The previous three events had addressed The State of Historical Letterpress, Using Letterpress and Letterpress in the Digital Age; this time the focus was on Letterpress Printing: Past, Present, Future.

The conference featured key note lectures by Will Hill, Johanna Drucker, and Dafi Kühne to explore the survival and revival of letterpress today. Hill talked of fixity and materiality in print and the digital era and of popular phrases that transcend printing – it certainly ‘made an impression’ and showed how print is an environment for the making of meaning. The concept of value in letterpress was explored in many of the talks, including Drucker’s introduction to her life and creation of innovative letterpress books in the Bay Area. The beautiful and experimental books push conceptual parameters with a freedom from the traditional rules of face and spacing for aesthetic purposes. Her work has been fully digitalised and can be viewed at artistsbookonline.org.

Johanna Drucker
Johanna Drucker

To end the two day event Kühne, a graphic designer and letterpress print maker, talked us through the processes behind his work and how he overcomes problems (one example can be viewed in this entertaining video).

Dafi Kühne
Dafi Kühne

On the first day representatives from the heritage sector took questions from the audience. We discussed the idea of a national printing museum and how it could represent all kinds of print – from a broader historical narrative to technical information and backgrounds on early printers. This highlighted an interest in lesser known personal narratives, resonating with our aim to share the story of Thomas Gent at the Thin Ice Press. The debate between archival preservation and museum demonstration also showed how many people, both on the panel and in the audience, believed it is imperative to use these machines alongside teaching the history of print. This resonates with our aim at the Thin Ice Press to preserve and teach the printing process today in order to preserve how knowledge was disseminated in the past.

Heritage roundtable
Representatives from the heritage sector

There were many more wonderful presentations on all aspects of letterpress, such as Naomi Kent’s on ‘Process not Product,’ in which she talked us through the processes behind her own work and how she took inspiration from 19th century decorative printers such as Albert Schiller. Seth Gottlieb, a member of the Thin Ice Press team, gave a talk titled ‘Letterpress printing: Enhancing STEM Curricula Through Practice-Based Research.’ It explored the use of teaching letterpress (outside the usual confines of history and design) to show how the tools and processes involved in printing provide useful lessons for STEM students to evolve their understanding of machinery and production. Such ideas were not seen anywhere else at the conference and, though the topic appeared unusual at first, the focus was incredibly fitting. It also gave an insight into his previous work at Rochester Institute of Technology, where he had worked with a team to build a late-eighteenth century common press. Our project at the Thin Ice Press would be impossible without his knowledge so it was amazing to gain a greater insight into his past work.

Seth Gottlieb
Seth Gottlieb giving his talk on ‘Letterpress printing: Enhancing STEM Curricula Through Practice-Based Research’
Thin Ice Press
…and a shout out to his work at the Thin Ice Press

There was also the opportunity to view samples of work created by the speakers. This was another exciting aspect of the conference, a way of engaging with established members of the letterpress community, and something else we can look forward to creating at the Thin Ice Press.

Samples of work
Samples of work
Elizabeth Friedlander
A sample of the Elizabeth Friedlander typeface, relating to the talk given by Graham Moss on ‘The Bauer Type Foundry and Elizabeth Friedlander.’

At the end of the final day we even had an impromptu tour of the printshop at the University of Leeds and at Leeds Arts University. It was very useful to view these spaces to pick up tips on organisation and studio layout…and of course to marvel at the presses.

University of Leeds
University of Leeds
University of Leeds
University of Leeds
Leeds Arts University
Leeds Arts University
Leeds Arts University
Leeds Arts University

I’d like to say a big thank you to https://letterpress.leeds.ac.uk/ and all conference speakers from the team at the Thin Ice Press. It was wonderful to meet members of the letterpress community, discover new ways of getting involved and the many ways of preserving the art of letterpress.

Keith Cross
From the talk by Keith Cross on ‘Building a Foundation of Knowledge with Letterpress’

New Adana 8×5 & Open Days at the University of York

Last week we welcomed an Adana 8×5 to the Thin Ice Press. Below you can see some photos of the team gathered round our new press as we set it up and the first ever imprint!

Our new Adana

Setting up the Adana press
Learning how to set up, ink and clean the Adana
First imprint by the Thin Ice Press, at the University of York
The first imprint by the Thin Ice Press on our new Adana!

After viewing a wide range of presses at The Logan Press we began to realise how amazing it would be to own machines from different eras, allowing us to chart letterpress history. As the Adana is the first and most modern of our press collection it will allow us to extend that vision all the way from the 1700’s, with our common press, into the 1950’s with the Adana.

During our visit to The Logan Press we ordered three large iron presses so decided it would also be a good idea to have a more portable press, as the smallest iron press may be called a ‘table top’ Albion but it is far harder to transport in comparison to the much smaller Adana.

Tabletop Albion Press
Tabletop Albion Press
dsc_00761.jpg
The much smaller tabletop Adana

This will allow us to move the Adana around the University and even transport it to events – so we can tell people about the Thin Ice Press and the future of the project with a press alongside! Our first opportunity to try this out happened last weekend as the Adana arrived just in time for the University of York open days. We set it up in the English Department foyer so we could offer prospective students the exciting opportunity of hands on engagement with our first press, alongside chatting about the printing history of York and our future plans for the letterpress studio.

Adana Press at University of York Open Day
Using the press at the University of York open day!

It was brilliant to see how much enthusiasm was created by our first and smallest press – we can’t imagine how excited people will be to see the finished studio and other presses! Follow our Twitter and Instagram for more project updates and a big thank you from the Thin Ice Press team to Caslon for the speedy delivery of our Adana.

The Logan Press

On Saturday 16th June we traveled from York to the East Midlands for a visit to The Logan Press. As one of the busiest commercial letterpress printers and restores in the UK, it seemed like a fitting place for a research and buying trip.

The Team
The team (from left to right): Seth, JT, Lizzy, Helen, Megan and Carla

We toured the company from the main studio to a separate warehouse that, as you can see from the photos, was packed floor to ceiling with a massive collection of presses.

The Logan Press - collection of presses

There was the chance to see the beautiful restoration work on Arab platen presses up-close, with several in stock and at different stages of the restoration process. Patrick Roe told us about their work and the different projects The Logan Press has worked on, including an 1880’s Cropper that made an appearance in the film Sherlock Holmes II and many other projects. Some of their restoration work can be seen on the very punnily titled ‘heidelblog’!

The Logan Press - Arab before restoration

The Logan Press - Arab after restoration

The site is also home to the Fine Book Bindery who offer specialist hand bookbinding for private presses, publishers and the printing trade. Housing the two trades under one roof meant we could see how specialist book production works from letterpress printing to bespoke bookbinding – the result is a truly beautiful product.

Patrick Roe of The Logan Press and Giles Hovendon of AMR Press have also recently merged their two companies. On the website they describe how, having worked closely together in the past, the merge will allow the continued partnership of experience and equipment. It is also because they have ‘decided on a new strategy to ensure their ability to provide these indispensable services in the future.’ Therefore it feels brilliant to be delving into this world of letterpress, to not only support it but to also create and develop our own press within it.

As we viewed the different machines it became clear how amazing it would be to have presses from different eras at Thin Ice. Our vision had quickly evolved from the common press and a small table top Adana, to charting the history of print through our presses, but avoiding the dangerous Heidelberg’s of course – no chopped fingers at the Thin Ice Press!

The Logan Press - Heidelberg

We purchased a beautiful table top Albion, a later Arab Crown Folio with a solid flywheel (that will be restored by The Logan Press) and a large Colombian (complete with the eagle that is also currently waiting to be restored). So, by end of July, we hope to have one platen and two hand presses restored and ready at the Thin Ice Press.

By having presses instead of ‘a press’ our studio will be able to chart the evolution of letterpress history – from the original Gent common press alongside our reproduction, to The Columbian, the Albion and finally the Arab. We hope this will also really help to fulfill our aims in teaching an outreach, as more presses offer up more practical ways to engage with history and different applications and techniques.

The Logan Press - table top Albion Printing Press

Having three presses on the way has certainly made us more aware of how far we have to go to establish our press room and made our endeavor seem  more real than it did a few days ago but still remains, above all, a very exciting development in the Thin Ice Press project. We would like to say a massive thank you to Patrick, Guy and Fran at The Logan Press for helping turn our vision of the Thin Ice Press into a reality…and also for the ride to lunch!

 

Check out http://www.theloganpress.co.uk

The Logan Press, 21d Orchard Road, Finedon, Northants. NN9 5JG United Kingdom

Telephone +44 (0) 1933 681961   Email patrick@theloganpress.co.uk