Norman, Luigi and the founding of Norlu Press

130731 Gordon Old Style with New Feed and Delivery Boards_1

Standing beside the 1863 George P. Gordon Old Style platen jobber that I inherited from my father.

 

The Norlu Press is a letterpress printery in Fayetteville, North Carolina. We achieved our first impression on August 18, 2013, but the story of this establishment began eight decades ago, in Fairport, New York.

It is 1936, and a twelve-year-old boy is recovering from a brief, but serious illness. Upon returning home from the hospital, his older sister gives him the gift of a rubber stamp set and a few sheets of paper. Believing these will bring the boy some joy as he recovers, she is unaware that the boy’s fascination with the little letters and tiny inking pad are the beginning of Lewis DiRisio’s lifelong association with the printing trade.

Lewis DiRisio was my dad. He founded the Norlu Press at the age of thirteen with his childhood friend, Norman Alfe (NORman + LUigi = Norlu.) Rubber stamping got them started, and although they used the toyish set to produce several editions of a neighborhood newspaper and other small jobs with the rubber stamps, they needed a real press.

By the time they were in high school, they were printing stationery, business cards, and raffle tickets. Using other printers’ shops, they produced silk ribbons for sporting events. They also printed tickets for high school dances they hoped to attend with the girls who occupied their minds when they were not learning about printing. They acquired types from the mentors they sought out and waited around the Alling & Cory printing supply house for a sympathetic foreman to toss them an off cut of paper or can of ink that would otherwise go unused and unnoticed.

Lewis DiRisio with Confirmation Sponsor

My dad, Lewis “Luigi” DiRisio, is on the left. He was the “lu” of the original Norlu Press, and this photo was taken at about the time he acquired the 1863 Gordon Old Style jobber platen press in 1939. It was already 76 years old at that point!

Eventually, their tool of choice became an 1863 George P. Gordon Old Style platen jobber…several hundred pounds of early industrial age machinery that was powered by a foot-operated treadle. I am not sure exactly when, from whom, or by what means my dad acquired it, but he probably was operating it by the age of 15, when he was a freshman  at Fairport High School and placed an advertisement for “Norlu Press-Printing of Quality” in the 1939 Fairport High School Hourglass yearbook.

That same press is the centerpiece of the 21st Century vision of The Norlu Press. (I added “The” to the beginning of the name to distinguish my modest attempt to carry on the letterpress craft from the work of my journeyman father.) It is my most sincere hope that his first press continues to bring as much satisfaction to you as it did to my father and his customers and friends so many years ago.

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