Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Xanadu Press: Then and Now
Xanadu Press, my husband’s and my private press, was founded in 1971. Then single and still living at home, I attended the St. Louis APA Wayzgoose with my family. I’d been interested in printing for some time, and had spent a lot of time helping my father in his print shop. So when an opening came up in the Amalgamated Printers Association, I didn’t hesitate. I was excited and started to print right away. My first project was a proprietor’s card, or “prop card” for my new press (see above).
I’d always loved the poem “Kubla Khan” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, which begins, “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dome decree...” So I named my press The Xanadu Press. By the way, Xanadu Press has nothing to do with that disco roller skating movie that came out in 1980!
My first printing efforts were modest. I printed a bookplate with a quote from William Blake. I did a holiday card, and a few Ben Franklin quotes. Then I decided to put together a small booklet of my poetry and call it Xanadu.
After our marriage my husband became interested in printing, too. My father Gary Hantke continued as a mentor to us both. Initially we lived in the same town and close to my father’s print shop, with its wealth of type, borders, and ornaments. But after we began moving in conjunction with our teaching careers, we acquired a 5x8 Kelsey hand press and a few type fonts of our own in the interest of portability.
It was then that we began to understand how difficult printing can be without the right equipment. We struggled with our little Kelsey press, trying to get a decent impression. Our main types were Cheltenham Bold and a little battered Caslon. It was hard to print something nice with so little variety.
We did create a small booklet called The Little Book of Steamboat Puns. It was notable mainly for the dreadful puns we came up with (for example: What do you call a 2000 pound steamboat thief? Robber Full-ton). In a fit of printerly pride, we gave a copy to the late musician and river enthusiast John Hartford at one of his concerts. He was very gracious, and actually remembered the booklet when we talked to him at a performance 15 years later. Maybe it was the awful puns that were memorable!
In the early 1980s we acquired a 7x11 Pearl press, hauling it in our AMC Pacer through a driving rainstorm in Philadelphia and back to our Wisconsin home. Now it was a little easier to print, especially since we’d bought more type from a printer in Lake Mills, Wisconsin. Living on the outskirts of a tiny village on the Mississippi River we were virtually rural, with a huge garden and beehives. We printed labels to sell jelly and honey at local farmer’s markets.
After our move to St. Louis in 1987, we became more active printers through our involvement with the St. Louis Letterpress Society and the APA. Following Dad’s death in 1990, we hauled most of his shop down to St. Louis in an exhausting move we’ll never forget (but more on that in a future blog!) We began printing items for our new St. Louis interests, some of which are shown below: a steamboat museum’s 50th anniversary program; a button for my husband’s museum co-workers after an exhibit installation; and a piece promoting the first of three APA Wayzgoose conventions in St. Louis.
Today we print more than we did in our earlier years. The lure of the print shop seems greater every year, with many projects to excite us. As Xanadu Press marks its 40th anniversary this summer, I’m grateful for all those printing opportunities, now and in the future.