let’s talk about letterpress

Mary Dougherty

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I'm a fine art film photographer living in the mountains and traveling to tell beautiful stories

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Letterpress has come along way since it’s beginnings and if you didn’t know is back in vogue. It’s origins though? You can correct me if I’m wrong, but letterpress began with the invention of movable type – when people stopped hand copying everything, thanks to Johannes Gutenberg – and instead arranged all of the letters in a “bed” which could print endless multiple sheets. Voilà – modern printing. Of course, things have continued to evolve and we have come full circle as modern and craft letterpress has risen the ranks and what was once praised for it’s unvaried consistency is now treasured for it’s unique idiosyncrasies.

I feel like I’m starting to write a paper. Don’t worry, I’m not – I’m just about to tell you why I’m talking about this. Yesterday, while I was still on my trip in NY, I was able to go to The Genesee Center for the Arts and meet up with a friend and intern there, Margaret Boecker. If I lived in Rochester, I would love to take advantage – that sounds wrong, but you know what I mean – of the art center. They have a ceramic studio, darkroom, and book arts/printing studio set up for artists to rent space from and work out of. Margaret gave me a little tour of the book arts center and where she works and what goes on in the studio. Of course I knew about letterpress (it’s okay if you didn’t though) but I hadn’t seen the process in person so I really enjoyed being able to have a tour and closer look. I’m also going to be working with Margaret and have her print some materials for me so it was great to talk through some of the details of that – and I look forward to sharing the finished products with you on here and in person.

First on to a few more photos that I snapped while walking around…

the drawers of different fonts and a pile of tiny letters

the vandercook press in use + the detail of the polymer plate being used

the heidelberg + Margaret talking about printing on it


While there are different tools and ways to letterpress (can I use that as a verb?), what makes it so special, so coveted these days is the time and effort that goes into creating each piece, the often handmade and personal qualities, and most of all the inviting impression. You can not only see the text but feel the letters pressed into the paper. It’s often used for invitations – particularly for weddings – since it is such an elegant way to print. Letterpress creates something that people want to hang on to and save.

I would rather buy one thing that lasts than several that will keep replacing each other – which is why I hope that with the letterpress materials I get they will not only look great but be saved or passed along to another person. I’m not sure if that’s realistic but that’s the hope. So, as I said I’ll keep you posted on their progress and I hoped you enjoyed the field trip I took and the closer look at printing and letterpress. Questions? I’m not sure if I’m qualified to answer but I’ll do my best or bring someone else in if necessary.

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