Letterpress lives on

When I read the Mountain Xpress article “Power of the Press” [May 14], I thought to myself “what, nothing about Mark Olson?” Then his name came up in Arnold Wengrow’s letter to the editor the following week [“Letterpress Artist Deserves Attention,” May 21, Xpress] .

It is somewhat of a puzzle that the 2010 article about Hand Cranked letterpress appears to be in your online archives and the the 2010 article about Olson appears to be absent.

Letterpress never really died, although there have been some changes, even as offset printing has lost ground to desktop publishing, which has lost ground to communicating via mobile devices such as smartphones.

My first full-time job started in December 1975 in the pressure-sensitive label-converting industry in Cleveland, Ohio.  In January 1978, I bought an 8-by-12 Chandler and Price press and 25 drawers of type for about $175.  The press was patented in the 1880s. I know the feeling of not having enough letters or numbers in a given type drawer.

The pressure-sensitive label industry changed with the invention of rotary dies and the development of flexible photopolymer plates. (At one point not too long ago, I used a soft photopolymer plate to override the varying thicknesses of a small envelope I was printing for a florist.)

Using  soft photopolymer or even rubber plates is known as flexography. It varies from rotary letterpress because it uses a laser-engraved anilox roller to deliver the ink to the plate.  Due to improvements in flexography, newspapers are often printed today with flexo as well as by offset.

On the other hand, if you want to print $20 bills, you might want to stick with offset, as an acquaintance of a co-worker did many years ago in Indiana. His eyes bulged out when my friend said to him “once you buy 100 percent rag bond paper, the Secret Service is watching you.” He should have stuck with making linoleum block prints and inking up a small brayer roller.

Mick Bysshe



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