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Learn About Letterpress

29th April 2015 by Jonathon

Calling all lovers of nice old things. We were at HOW Design Live in May, using a rejuvenated letterpress to print special collectible postcards, on the spot, just for you. So, maybe you’re not up to date with the printing techniques of the 19th century… not to worry. We’ve got you covered.

Basically our choice to take a letterpress came about after we found a remarkable little business called T and T Press Restoration. Run entirely by Tom and Terri Kartes, the couple from Minneapolis first got involved after their daughter expressed an interest in printing. “Just being who we are, we thought: well, wouldn’t it be slick if we couldn’t find her a press of her own. We knew nothing at the time, this is about 10 years ago, of the trade or the equipment, other than casually.”

After finding a disassembled press they went about finishing and repainting it, then gave it to their daughter after “much work and stick-to-itiveness.” Pretty soon after they got the bug for it. “There is a fraction of the industry that prefers not to reclaim old iron, but to print with something that looks new and fresh. That’s what prompted our journey of finding them [the presses] and developing processes to efficiently and effectively restore the presses.”

An aircraft mechanic by trade, Tom simply used his engineering know how to build an understanding of the ways in which letterpresses work. “Terry hunts and finds the machines, working on the sale aspects whilst I’m on the bench 90% of the time,” says Tom.

So, what exactly is letterpress? Tom describes it as “a tactile feel of quality paper with the type and ink slightly debossed or impressed into the paper.” So naturally, given our attention to detail, we wanted to have a live demonstration of a press at the event to illustrate one of the key facets of print.

The machine we used at HOW is known as ‘The Pilot.’ Tom elaborated on its history a little bit, “It came from thorough development of what worked and didn’t work in the late 1800s. Starting around 1880, Chandler & Price [the maker of our letterpress] had the market share on floor model presses in the US. It’s my understanding that the table-top version you’re set to use found itself in use in churches, schools and mortuaries as well as for training purposes.”

“The press that MOO’s using came from Ranier, Minnesota. Let’s say, if you were going to print less than a hundred of something, this would be the press to own. In the 1960s Chandler & Price went out of business, but the model continued to be made up until the mid 1970s.”

Terri deals with the organizational side of the business. When we contacted her to see if we could make this arrangement work, she said, “Well, when do you need it by? The earliest we could start a press is May 1st,” which was far too late for us. So we asked if they could do it with a quicker turn-around, and they (luckily) agreed and got to work. “I don’t think we’ve ever done a press so quickly before from start to finish. It took 2 weeks and it usually takes 3. We worked really hard at it, we worked weekends to do the best job we could.” And what a job they did, creating a remarkable change from the somewhat dilapidated original, transforming it into the glorious iron beast you see below.

“When we talked to our daughter about the press we said it was going to Rhode Island and then off to Chicago. I mentioned that it’s going to a company named MOO. She said, ‘Mom, are you kidding me?! They are the best! They have the most beautiful work!’ She told me to go to your website, so I did, and spent quite a long time looking at it, it’s full of beautiful stuff.”

I think it’s safe to say that we’ve only increased our tank of beauty by collaborating with Tom and Terri and sharing their unbridled passion towards the art of letterpress with our friends and fans. We know what you’re thinking – and, no, there was no need to include that last quote in the piece…


We hope you’ve gained a little insight into the Letterpress and also the work that T and T Press Restoration involve themselves in. They really do know their stuff, and if you were lucky enough to get a piece of the story then head along to our Twitter and share where you’ve pinned them up!

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