January 7, 2012
1:57 pm

Days out in the Letterpress Scrapyard


The week before Christmas, we had a tip-off about a closing letterpress shop in a mysterious Yorkshire location. It was a decades-old place, once run by a man in his eighties, with plenty to salvage. They had plenty of type, blocks, and everything else the letterpress aficionado needs, or so went the rumour we’d heard. You can’t say no to an offer like that, so we jumped in the car and hopped to it. Where was it? It’s hard to say exactly. It was very rainy, and my sat-nav kept trying to make me drive through a row of houses. But we found the place eventually, upstairs from a narrow little house in a narrow little back street. “This place,” we were told by the man’s son, “used to be a thriving business in the seventies.” When he’d been first set to work there at the age of 26, thirty or so years ago, they’d had six people working in the print shop, a space the size of a generous box room. There were two people compositing, he and his dad locking up, and two people printing and finishing. One time, a woman in a rush to finish a job quickly had put her hand in the platen press to retrieve a falling envelope, and got her fingers caught. “We haven’t used that press since the 90s,” the son said. “There’s no money in it these days.” But what a gem of a place it was. Under stacks of paper and old set-up printing jobs from the old days, we kept finding gems. Dozens of chases, and three boxes of old printing blocks; buckets of quads, and quoins and mini-quoins and quoin keys lying around everywhere; high jumbles of furniture that almost covered the windows. Down in the bottom corner of the room were cabinets and cabinets of type, and a press thick with dust that had started gathering from the last time it had been used. “Can we move in tomorrow?” we asked. Unfortunately, the option of moving into the print shop as is was not open to us. There were plenty of treasures to be seen, though, and we spent a happy hour looking through type and lead to find things we wanted – and there was plenty of it… As if that wasn’t enough for a fine letterpress day out, there was yet more fun to be had afterwards. We had an appointment to pick up an 8×5 Adana, donated to us by a lady we met at the Manchester & Salford Anarchist Book Fair. It wasn’t seeing a lot of use and she was keen for it to go to somebody who would get to work with it – which we definitely will. Jumping back in the car, we headed across to the Wrong Side of the Pennines to get it. It was being stored in an artists’ studio in an old mill. As a bonus to the press itself, there was some paper, loads of instruction books, and lots of little trays of type. It was all stuff that will get put to use. The portable stuff will mean that we’ll be able to offer letterpress workshops at some point in the future… keep watching for more news on that. We came home extremely tired but very excited, with a portable press and several sets of cool new printing blocks to our name. Special thanks to Tess for the donation, and to Jim at Pool Arts for helping us out. You can be assured that the Adana will see plenty of use by us in the future!