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.