In my previous post, “The Reality of Letterpress in Publishing,” I may have given the impression that I believe the letterpress has no future. I’d like to correct that notion in this post where I reflect on my visit to Meshwork Press.
As I was first to enter the workshop, I had the opportunity to ask the proprietor questions concerning the letterpress. One of the lingering questions I had after viewing the film Pressing On and reading online blogs is the dispute between those who believe the print ought to only “kiss” the paper or make an indenting impression. The argument against the latter is that the machines are not designed for that task; however, the impression itself is the leading consumer appeal. While I could not receive a definitive answer to the machines’ durability, I did sense a confidence that such a concern is inflated. While the machines probably are wearing out at an accelerated pace, the rate likely does not drastically increase breakdown. A second question I had concerned other advantages letterpress has over digital printing. Digital print is inferior to letterpress in printing neon colors.
What does this mean for letterpress in publishing? For one, the letterpress can be used more liberally than what was first implied which means more can be produced without drastically increasing production cost. Secondly, letterpress will still not be used in the mass production of more conventional books. Perhaps this last point is what might be misunderstood. Anyone who wishes the letterpress to be used for thick codexes like they were used before will be thoroughly disappointed. Such pages would use the “kiss” technique which excludes the valued impression. Nevertheless, unconventional small “books,” such as posters and cards, could easily be mass produced. My point is, letterpress will never return as the primary tool for printing, but it still has a place in publishing though in another branch of the industry.
Mary Laird of Quelquefois Press and the Perishable Press Limited reflects, “Marrying old and new technology in my art has been a challenge. I consciously tried to this in Remember the Light, where I printed and pained on etchings” (106). Her book uses a variety of techniques including letterpress, but notice that her book is unconventional. It is an artist’s book, a niche in the industry that is unlikely to become highly popular anytime soon. Even so, her work is still valuable and shows the place of the letterpress – a tool among many but not the primary.
“Mary Laird: Quelquefois Press & The Perishable Press Limited.” 2005. A Poetics of the Press, edited by Kyle Schlesinger, Cuneiform Press & Ugly Duckling Presse, 2021, pp. 96-107.
2 thoughts on “Further Thoughts on Letterpress in Industry”
I think it’s interesting that you mention that letterpress is better at printing neon colors than digital publishing, for example. The different advantages that each form of printing has situates them all in a broader conversation about printing that does not unduly praise or exclude one type of printing. Even the revived use of letterpress demonstrates that it still has an important function and aesthetic within the more general printing realm. If it were completely obsolete, I don’t think there would be as much new interest in it as there currently is. Perhaps new letterpress printers are drawn to how it is unique from other forms of printing. The ability to better print neon colors is one such characteristic; yet, it seems that part of the beauty of letterpress is also in how it is a resistance against tradition modes of printing that overly prize efficiency. Letterpress, by contrast, blends efficiency (for things such as color printing) with aesthetic.
I like how you pose the question of ‘What does it mean for letterpress in publishing?’ In addition, I find it interesting how you explain that certain perspectives of letterpress can be misunderstood. For example, I never thought about the “kiss” technique and how it excluded the valued impression of letterpress. Moreover, it’s interesting how you believe that letterpress will never return as the primary tool for printing but still has a place in publishing. In reading Schlesinger’s interviews, I found that we are just beginning to see print clearly for the first and are now asking questions about its structures, which makes it an exciting time to be involved in this world.