While thinking about the third and final of my three posts on “The Things Printers Don’t Carry,” I had the opportunity to crank up the old Gordon Jobber for its longest press run since I reestablished The Norlu Press in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
This past weekend, I printed 1,000 business cards for my old friend Gerry Messmer, a U.S. Army combat veteran officer who also is a living historian and the owner of Powderhorns and More. Gerry is an artisan who crafts powderhorns and is a purveyor of numerous items for living historians and reenactors.
One thousand cards does not sound like a lot, but my means of production has no electricity, no ink fountain and no throw-off to take the press off impression for a misfeed. Those enhancements were not available when George P. Gordon manufactured my cast iron printing press in 1863. I power it by means of its foot treadle, which requires a constant pumping action
“Who is gonna make it?
We’ll find out in the long run.”
– Glenn Frey and Don Henley (1979)
Of all the job printing I did as a teenager and college student with my dad at the original Norlu Press in Fairport, New York, the kind of work to which I least looked forward was the long run. There is a certain satisfaction in designing, composing, imposing/locking up and making ready a job for a customer. That was always the fun part.
The presswork, for me, was always the most monotonous part of the job. The steps prior to the actual printing of a job require one’s complete attention, and when done properly, they keep one’s mind from wandering. Once a job is in position and the impressions begin, there is substantially less on which to focus. Dad trained me to keep a rhythm, get good position with each feed, check the color (actually a term for the overall ink quality and coverage–even when printing in black ink) and to watch for individual types or cuts working up and printing a bad image, but even doing all of that left a lot of time to think about the party that was a few hours away, the girl you like who might like you, or the lyrics to every song on the Rush 2112 album.
Long runs for me in the 1980s on my dad’s 10×15 Chandler & Price New Style platen press were anything over an hour’s press time. The press operated off of a variable speed electric motor, but still required the pressman (me) to hand feed each piece of stock, watch it print, and then pick it up and place it on the press’ delivery board. Depending on the stock to be printed, I was able to perform about 1,100 accurate impressions per hour. My dad almost never saw a job he didn’t like, and although most of our jobs were business cards, tickets, stationery, wedding invitations and such, with no more than a few thousand impressions, salvaging other printers’ mistakes was an opportunity to make some money. It also was a sure bet for a long run of 10,000, 15,000 or more impressions.
Just seeing ten or twenty cases of envelopes in the back of my dad’s station wagon, upon which I was to print a strike-out rule and line of corrected text, was enough to make myself appear really busy. “Are you sure there isn’t a raffle ticket to run?” I would ask my dad.
“What about a wedding invitation that needs to be set? I could put a second color rule around those membership cards I printed this morning.” No effort to rid myself of the long run worked, and I spent many, many hours feeding that press on those long, long runs.
The Powderhorns and More business card job was, for me and this much slower and older press, a long run…my longest yet. But it was a joy to print, evoking memories of my dad and helping me to remember the joy of being one with an early industrial age piece of machinery…and I was happy to provide my friend Gerry a card that reflects the work he does. The Norlu Press is available for your letterpress printing needs – short runs as well as long!