Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Firecracker Press: 21st Century Letterpress in St. Louis

An overview of the sales area of Firecracker Press. Printing equipment and case stands serve as display areas for letterpress items for sale.

A colorful display of posters catches the eye and shows people what letterpress looks like.

Firecracker Press proprietor Eric Woods adjusts type in a letterpress poster on the Vandercook.

Author Bob Mullen illustrates a point in his talk on St. Louis type foundries.

Last Saturday my husband Bob gave a PowerPoint presentation at Firecracker Press, a letterpress specialty shop here in St. Louis. Bob’s talk, “Type Nerds Unite” on the history of type founding in St Louis attracted a good-sized crowd of enthusiastic young graphic designers and printers. Bob talked about the eleven type foundries that were in business in St. Louis between 1840-1925, comparing the trends in type design they showcased to overall decorative taste in each time period. Copies of his book, “Recasting A Craft” (Southern Illinois University Press – were available for sale. The creative energy was bouncing off the walls as the audience lined up to ask questions and get copies of their commemorative poster of the event.

Firecracker Press is a happening place. The excitement proprietor Eric Woods and his staff generate can be felt by anyone entering the shop on 2838 Cherokee Street. Colorful letterpress posters, greeting cards, journals, poetry chapbooks, buttons, and T-shirts entice you as you enter the showroom. Venture in a little further and you’ll hear the rumble of Vandercook presses and smell printer’s ink.

Creative advertising and promotion, community events series, and a strong web presence (check out have made Firecracker Press a highly successful letterpress business. The shop has become well known enough to be featured in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and on St. Louis Public Radio (KWMU).

Eric and his three employees (shop manager Matty Kleinberg, Sarah Richardson, and Maggie Filla) and four seasonal interns keep incredibly busy, creating one-of-a-kind wedding invitations, business cards, poetry books, advertising for retail businesses, and specialty posters for clients like the St. Louis Science Center and Forest Park Forever. The majority of the designs are hand carved in wood, then printed in a rainbow of colors.

Hand carved wooden blocks form a background design for a Firecracker Press poster to be printed on the Mastercraft press.

Eric got hooked on letterpress at the Kansas City Art Institute while pursuing print-making and getting his degree in graphic design. He founded Firecracker Press in 2002, and after eight years is still fascinated with letterpress. “There’s something about the quality of letterpress. It a good way to combine design and printing,” he says, freely admitting that he loves both.

With an imaginative and hard-working crew, the ideas come easily. “We bounce things off each other,” he says. A look around the shop made it easy for me to see how much fun they’re having doing that.

Part of the Firecracker Press staff at the Vandercook: from right to left, shop manager Matty Kleinberg; proprietor Eric Woods; Sarah Richardson; and intern Ashford Stamper.

Firecracker Press is hosting a special series this year, including poetry readings (with the poetry printed on posters as the poets read on stage) and a chocolate tasting event that promises to be especially delicious.

Posters set and printed at Firecracker Press during a poetry reading.

Once you’re drawn into the shop, you’re hooked. You want to buy stuff. You want to play with type and cuts and get your hands inky. Your creativity quotient gets cranked up to maximum. Bravo to Eric and crew for introducing so many people in the St. Louis area to the unique quality and excitement of letterpress!

Two business cards for Firecracker Press. Notice the specially created advertising logo on top that looks like a matchbox.


  1. I can't wait to go to Firecracker Press--sounds like my kind of place. I'm sure Bob's presentation was a good one and sorry I had to miss it.

  2. It's a fun place alright. Just being there makes you feel creative!