Yesterday was a big day for Happy Penguin. After months of searching, Bryan and I finally found a printing press. It was a long process, but we’re ready to share now. Let’s start at the beginning.
A few months ago, we began scouring the Internet for presses. We wanted to produce more of our work in-house instead of having to outsource it. There are many reasons for this. Financially, it makes more sense. Time wise, it makes more sense. And creatively, it makes more sense. We loved, and still do love, the letterpress printer we were working with, but we wanted the feeling of inking the paper and producing something 100% by our own hands. This was how to do that.
But finding a press is a long process with many ins and outs. We started at an industry website called Briar Press. On a daily basis, we scanned the classifieds to see what was available. Some of you may not know, but letterpress printing presses are not produced anymore. In fact, they haven’t been produced for decades now. These machines are old. You can spot them in junk yards and at estate sales, gathering dust in people’s garages, hand-me-downs from their great-grandparents that they know nothing about. There are countless stories on the Internet about people finding a press buried in a garage and salvaging it. Letterpress as an art form is ancient, but it’s being revived by people who have a passion for it and want it to survive and flourish. All of this is to say that this isn’t something you can run to Wal-mart and purchase. Each press will have its own story, history, and wear and tear. And these are things you must explore when you’re looking to purchase the press.
The next facet of this is their size. These are not small machines. The Old Style Chandler & Price, which was Bryan and my top choice, weighs in around 500-1,000 pounds—and that’s a light one!
They are intricate, made out of cast iron that is old and, though strong, may be brittle. Transporting them can be tricky. They can be disassembled, but it must be done carefully. Imagine trying to move a 40-inch-wide cast-iron machine from 1885 through your kitchen doorway. Wouldn’t work very well, would it? So, your living situation has to be taken into account too. And Bryan and I, as much as we love the C&P, couldn’t figure out how to get one into our home. Because we’re in a townhouse with no garage and no downstairs office/studio space, we couldn’t figure out where we could give it a home. (We very well couldn’t tote it up our stairs.) And believe me, we tried to think of something. I likened it to visiting the car dealership and falling in love with an SUV when you can only fit a Civic in your garage. I stumbled upon one C&P in Montgomery that was love at first sight. I was so sold that at one point I blurted out that I’d keep her in the kitchen for goodness sakes! (I don’t know why, but presses seem like girls to me. I call them all “her.”)
But Bryan, ever the logical one in our relationship, reminded me that I was shopping with my heart instead of my head. For now, it would be best for us to stick with a table-top press, something that would better suit our current living situation. When we move or can afford to add an outside studio space, then we can begin the search for a C&P again.
So we switched to the table-top search. A good table-top can be hard to find. The model we were looking for, a Pilot, was almost nowhere to be found. We lost out to one on Ebay during the last 20 minutes, when the price of the auction skyrocketed, more than doubling in a matter of minutes, so that the press was going for more than we felt it was worth. Reluctantly, we backed out and let it go. Another sold on Briar Press a day before we inquired about it. It was slow going.
But then, on a whim, I contacted someone via a classified ad on Briar Press and inquired about a table-top ad he had placed over a month ago. I didn’t think much of it. Sometimes ads will remain online even after the press has sold. I figured this one was long gone. To my surprise, it was still available. Bryan and I began e-mailing back and forth with the man, located in Minneapolis, Minnesota, about the press. After a few days of discussion and research regarding how we would get the press safely down to our home in Alabama, we decided that this was the press for us.
This isn’t an actual image of our press, but this is the same model, an Excelsior Model U lever press. She doesn’t have a fly wheel or the beauty of the C&P, but we were able to see photos of some work she’s produced, and we were pleased with it. This photo is of a smaller model than ours, which is a 6.5 x 10. Ours was at one point disassembled and lovingly refinished, so she’s a fresher black compared to the above photo. The rollers, so key to a press, are in great condition, as every part is original in and in good working order. The shelf at the front will need to be sanded down and refinished, but Bryan is looking forward to this little act of love. We’ll welcome her to our home with a fresh varnish, and then get to work!
This weekend the press will be painstakingly packaged in a crate, and next week it will begin its journey to us. Stay tuned for a fun contest we have planned once she arrives, as well as a slew of new cards we’re planning to produce. It’s going to get fun around here. Stick around and help us welcome her to our home!