Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Al Frank's "Boutique de Junque"

While attending the 1968 APA Wayzgoose with my family, I got the opportunity to visit a printer’s landmark now long gone − Al Frank’s printing supply warehouse at 947 West Cullerton in Chicago. I had to beg to go there with my dad and our printer friends the Worleys. The neighborhood surrounding the place was rundown and rough, not a place to take your teenaged daughter. But Lillian Worley helped me to talk my dad into it, and so the four of us set off.

By 1968 Al Frank’s “Boutique de Junque” was a well known printer’s mecca. In the printing salvage business since 1931, Al had stuffed five cavernous floors with presses, cutters, type, cuts, borders, galleys, and whatnot hauled in from print shops he bought. Everything was jumbled throughout the warehouse, but there was a rough order to the place: machinery on the first floor, wood type and miscellaneous on the second floor, metal type on three, equipment on four, and the overflow crammed onto five.

The building had its own character. Stairs and a balky freight elevator connected the floors. Plumbing was ancient and often non-functional. I felt lucky to be there in summer, since Dad had told me how cold the unheated building was in the winter months. The only way to warm up in winter was to join Al on the loading dock, where he burned junky cuts and beat-up type cases in an old 55 gallon drum.

The place was informal to say the least. There were no signs or price tags. You foraged through the warehouse, then brought things to Al, who’d squint at your pile of loot and name a price. I felt excited to be there, and was determined to help my dad find the good stuff. And I didn’t care how much dirt I had to plow through to do it!

I eagerly explored all five floors. Dusty type cabinets, heaps of galleys, skids of paper, and piles of standing forms mingled with old bathroom fixtures pulled out of print shops. In the middle of summer it was hot and sticky, especially on five. Pigeons cooed in the rafters and dotted merchandise with droppings. Never one to be daunted, Lillian Worley checked a metal rack swathed in plastic and discovered a line of women’s dresses. “You know, these aren’t half bad,” she said, laughing as she pulled one out and held it up for size.

As he always did at Al Frank’s, my father found typographical gold that day: a handful of old cuts, some beautiful borders, and a couple of quaint old typefaces half hidden in the dust and debris. And I loved being there, too. Visiting Al Frank’s was a huge thrill, a marvelous printing treasure trove that I wanted to see again. But as luck would have it, I never did. And in 1981, the big old warehouse burned to the ground. There was almost nothing left for Al’s son Jack Frank to salvage other than scrap metal.

The demise of Al Frank’s “Boutique de Junque” marked the end of an era of supreme typographical treasure hunting. But anyone who was there will never forget the place. What an adventure!

An early business card of Al Frank's, pre-dating modern telephone numbers and zip codes.


  1. Oh my, I wished it was still there, that sounds like tons of fun to go rummaging through all that press stuff. You were lucky indeed to have experienced it.

  2. A lot of us wish it was still there. It was like a big treasure hunt, and rummaging through everything was half the fun.