Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Something New -- New Year's Cards!

After a couple of decades of creating Christmas cards, my husband and I were struggling to come up with something new and different each year. Then an entirely different avenue beckoned — New Year’s cards! Inspired by our late printing mentor Emerson Wulling, who made New Year’s cards a holiday tradition, we decided to give them a try.

Below, Emerson Wulling's New Year's card for 1951, featuring a Robert Louis Stevenson quote.

After finding a poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox that fit the idea of new beginnings, the rest of our 2007 New Year’s greeting came easily. We set the poem in Parsons type and our New Year’s greetings in Tiffany Gothic, then added a large and smaller cut of a clipper ship to fit the nautical theme.

For 2008 we got a little more fancy. We’d been studying and identifying some of our old wood type, so we decided to feature it on the card. Each 2008 was printed with a different wood type, the exception being the smaller black 2008 with the dots in the middle of the zeros — that’s a Central metal typeface called Atlanta. Inside we set the Rilke quote in Bewick Roman (a great 19th century typeface recast by Skyline Type Foundry) and added our good wishes for the year in Washington, another old Central Type Foundry face.

We used one of our latest “finds” on our 2009 New Year’s card: an unusual old border, Floriated Border, rescued from a moldering case we discovered in an antique store in Paducah, Kentucky. The tiny pieces of twig, flower, and bark border were hard to set, but created an interesting result. And we really liked the quote from Eleanor Roosevelt, which we set in Grolier, a gorgeous old MacKellar, Smiths and Jordan Type Foundry face. The inside of the card also included Extra Ornamented #2 and Geometric Italic.

After we bought a book last year with examples of artistic 19th century printing, we decided to experiment a little with color on our 2010 New Year’s card. We tried several different color combinations (including seasonal red and green) before settling on yellow, green, and dark brown ink on cream paper. The yellow impression was laid down first, followed by the green and then the brown. “2010” is printed in Arboret, a 19th century MacKellar face. Inside we used Caslon Open and Caslon Italic in brown and green tones to set the poem by Whittier.

We’ve printed five New Year’s cards now, and we’re still full of ideas. And we’ve found that New Year’s cards offer the letterpress printer some advantages: 1) the chance to use inspirational, optimistic quotes/poetry about the future; 2) the opportunity to feature fancy old numerals; and, happily 3) a bit more time to get the holiday cards printed and mailed out!

So... we wish you a very Happy New Year! Thank you for reading this blog, and I look forward to sharing more with you in 2011!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Letterpress Card Tradition Continues

There’s something special about a letterpress holiday card! Over the years my husband and I have printed many of them. In the earliest years of our marriage, we didn’t have a printing press — but once we got one, letterpress Xmas cards became the norm for us. Hand-printed letterpress Xmas cards take a lot of work, but they’re worth it. It’s so satisfying to create a personalized greeting and exercise your creativity at the same time!

Each year we come up with a different holiday card idea. Below are a few examples. A few others are shown in earlier posts on this blog, including “My Favorite Typefaces” (June) and “How I Design a Printed Piece” (October).

We started simply. Our 1985 holiday card was printed from a single cut, then decorated with colored pencils. We kept the inside blank so we could write personal notes to family and friends.

Our card from 1991 used two color Della Robbia initials and Caslon to define “enjoy”. The inside was printed in Caslon Italic. This card needed the green “ENJOY” on the front to be in just the right place. We had to feed the C&P carefully to make sure the paper was straight, and thankfully only messed up a few.

A little later we got some uncial types, and happily incorporated them into the Xmas card below. “Season’s Greetings” on the front of the card was done in Goudy Text with red Missal initials and a holly border. The inside message was printed with Solemnis and Libra, our newly acquired uncials. We also had some fun with the Goudy paragraph markers (little leaves) throughout.

In the quest for something different, we printed a “Deck the Halls” card using some older typefaces. The front of the card featured Crawford Medium and Old English, interspersed with two color holly border (notice the little red berries). Three colors on the front meant three times through the press. Inside we used Ray Shaded (an old 19th century typeface) to print “Fa-la-la”, plus Libra to sign our names.

Looking for new ideas, we printed some of our many little Xmas cuts in the shape of a tree. It was harder than it looked because some of the cuts were old and worn, especially the girl in the sunbonnet just below the red Santa Claus. We tried for red berries with the green holly again, this time as part of the tree base on the front. The type inside the card is Crayonette, a recasting of an old 19th century face. We found the Xmas tree cut in an antique store in Delavan, Wisconsin. It looked old judging by the candles on the tree.

One of our more unusual holiday cards involved a very bad pun. “Muletide Greetings” was printed in Old English on the outside, with Freehand added on the interior. We used that hard-to-print multicolor wreath we’d inherited from my father, and thankfully we had a couple of cuts of mules. This card got more comments from family and friends than most, and we certainly had a great time creating it. See how much fun printing your own holiday cards can be!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Hantke Family Christmas Cards

When I was growing up, Christmas cards were a family production. In the years when I was small my father Gary Hantke was into photography, so pictures of family were the rule. But after Dad caught the letterpress printing bug in the mid-1950s, all of us became more involved. Dad’s transition between his photography and letterpress interests is apparent in our 1958 card (shown below), which combines the two.

Then my mother got into the Christmas card production process by learning to do silk screen work. First she would cut stencils for each color with an Exacto knife. Then each ink color had to be forced through its stencil with a squeegee (how I loved that word, squeegee!). I got to help squeegee and make some of the cards. It took quite a while to create the angel shown below, with five colors to run plus the printing inside.

My sister and I helped in other ways, too. We folded, stapled, and sometimes hand-tinted the pictures on cards with colored pencils. By the time we got done making it, each year’s Christmas card came from all of us. It was a wonderful way to create something together as a family.

As my father’s printing skills increased, his holiday cards became more elaborate.
In 1966 the Christmas card was an eight page miniature booklet called “The Christmas Story”. Set in tiny 6 and 8 point type, it was an exercise in eyestrain, but a beautiful result.

1969’s “Green Is For Christmas” was a ten page printed booklet with multi-color cuts throughout. The front cover was four color: green, red, black, and gold. My husband and I still have that multi-color wreath cut, and have discovered that it’s incredibly hard to print in register. I look back now and marvel at how easily my Dad handled it.

One of my favorite family Christmas cards is “Abou Ben Adhem”, printed in 1968. I like the way Dad combined two colors of border printed on top of each other to frame each page. The poem by Leigh Hunt is a beautiful one, and the Legend type Dad used has always been one of my favorites. But most of all I appreciate the classic way the card was designed. The entire family got into the act hand sewing the cards with embroidery floss. It was a lovely card, and I consider it one of the nicest pieces my father ever printed.

Today my husband and I continue the tradition of printing our holiday cards. There’s something so special about a card you make yourself!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

I Love Cuts: Railroad Cuts and Logos

I’ve always enjoyed trains — as a kid I grew up within a few blocks of where the Burlington Northern ran through my hometown. My sister and I made games of counting freight cars and seeing how many different kinds we could spot. We watched spinning train wheels until we were dizzy. And once we spotted a hobo, riding in style in a new car that was travelling by train to some auto dealer’s lot. We waved, and the hobo waved back to us. I love the sounds trains make, too – the whistles, the clack of the wheels, and that oddly fading sound (Doppler effect) as they pass by. So naturally as a printer, I love railroad printing cuts.

Our railroad cut collection got a big boost in the mid-1990’s. We hosted a meeting of the St. Louis Letterpress Society in our home, and one of our friends who attended said he had some cuts to give us. Irv was a former employee of Con P. Curran, a St. Louis firm that specialized in railroad printing. Con Curran advertised themselves as “the railroad printers”. Their offices, dating from 1893, were once located at 3rd and Locust in downtown St. Louis, in the area now occupied by the Gateway Arch. When the letterpress shop of Con Curran was broken up years ago, Irv was able to save railroad cuts and logos that otherwise would have been trashed.

Printers' cut of the old Con P. Curran office building at 3rd and Locust in downtown St. Louis circa 1893.

When we saw what he’d saved, we were amazed and grateful for his gift. There were cuts and logos from many different railroad lines — Detroit, Toledo and Ironton, Western Pacific, Rio Grande, Cotton Belt Route, Colorado and Southern, Frisco, Santa Fe, Burlington, Katy, Florida East Coast, D and W, Milwaukee Road, New York Central, Wabash, and Mobile and Ohio, to name a few. There were cuts of hand signals for trains, and cuts of the trains themselves. And there were cuts of the old Con Curran office building. It was a treasure trove for us.

Below are pictures of some of our railroad cuts. It’s fascinating to me to see what logos were used by what railroad lines. And for some of the old railroad lines long since defunct, these cuts are a memento of a time when much of the country traveled by train. What a great souvenir of our railroading past!


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Letterpress Poetry

One of the great advantages of being both a letterpress printer and poet is self-publication! These days it’s pretty hard to get poetry published without paying a vanity press or buying an expensive anthology. But if you’re a letterpress printer, you have a huge ace in the hole. Print as many of your poems as you’d like whenever you want to, and distribute them as you wish. And design the printed piece or booklet exactly as you, the poet, want it to look. It’s wonderful!

As a printer and sometimes poet, I’ve had the chance to print some of the poetry I’ve written over the years. And I plan to print a lot more of my poems, once I get the myriad scraps of paper in my poetry file organized and edited. Sounds like a “someday” project, but I’m actively working on it.

I have enough haiku to do a miniature book, too. Haiku is a great poetic form for printers. First of all, it’s short. You can print seventeen syllables with even the smallest font of type. It means a lot less hand-setting, too. And haiku lends itself to all sorts of neat Oriental cuts, borders, and ornaments, as well as those illustrating the seasons.

Below are a few of my ventures in printing my own poetry in our letterpress shop. I hope to do considerably more of this in future. What a great opportunity to express yourself and get published at the same time!

An early poetry booklet of mine, named after The Xanadu Press.

RR Crossing, a poem from the Xanadu booklet.

A poem written during a bout of spring fever.

More haiku -- one of my favorite types of poetry to print.

A recent poem about my affinity to the 19th century -- part of the reason I love being a letterpress printer!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Mark Twain, Printer

This November 30th marks the 175th anniversary of the birth of Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain. Why is Mark Twain so beloved by letterpress printers? First of all, because he was a printer. He learned the trade working for his brother Orion at the Hannibal Journal in Missouri, then wandered around the east coast as a itinerant typesetter. He became a steamboat pilot for awhile, but when the Civil War forced him off the river he took off for Nevada Territory. There he ended up working for a newspaper called The Territorial Enterprise. Serving as a typesetter, printer, reporter, and sometimes author, he honed his talent for comedic writing.

Newspaper printers in those days were of necessity writers. With every column, advertisement, and article in the newspaper set by hand, one letter and space at a time, there was often a need to fill empty space with articles written at the last minute. A fascinating book I read recently, “Lighting Out For the Territory: How Samuel Clemens Headed West and Became Mark Twain” (by Roy Morris, Jr., Simon & Schuster, 2010) tells how young Sam Clemens used the Enterprise’s need for newspaper copy to get his early stories published. By the time “The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” had made him a well-known writer, Twain’s ability to write comedy was fine-tuned from his printing days.

Another reason letterpress printers love Mark Twain: he wrote some of the best quotes for printing that you can imagine! Here are just a few examples: “Do not put off till tomorrow what can be put off till day-after-tomorrow just as well.” “Few of us can stand prosperity. Another man’s, I mean.” “Good breeding consists in concealing how much we think of ourselves and how little we think of the other person.” “ It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress.” “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence in society.” “I haven’t a particle of confidence in a man who has no redeeming petty vices.” When in doubt what to print, you can always whip out a Twain quote and be assured of an appreciative audience.

Finally, many printers delight in Twain’s nonconformity, his distinctive sense of self. Twain loved to poke fun at the foibles of the human race. Using humor, he was able to get away with saying things he couldn’t have with a straight face. It’s instructive and fun to see how Twain was able to express himself and be a free thinker without antagonizing his audience. Most letterpress printers by nature are strong individuals and believers in freedom of the press, so Twain’s character resonates with them.

So... Happy 175th Birthday Mark Twain, wherever you are! As a would-be author, I admire and appreciate your work. And as I plug away setting type, I’ll think of you building your literary career in the print shop, one letter and space at a time.

Two miniature books featuring early writings of Mark Twain, printed and bound by the Scottfree Press.