“Post-Coaster” with vintage ATF border (part 1)

The weather has not moderated too much since my most recent post, but even if it is still more than ninety degrees, I remain inspired to print something cool with the 1923 American Type Founders (ATF) 24-point holly, bells and ribbon border I acquired last year. While considering how to fashion these beautiful lead types into a Christmas card, it struck me that I could design a greeting to be used on a post-card size beverage coaster. The recipients would know that I wished them the very best sentiments of the season, and could use the card as a coaster for their favorite warm or cold holiday libation.

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The 1923 ATF holly, bells and ribbon border composed and tied to be used later in a form. Note the use of corner quads, which are handy when making up forms of border from multiple sections of type.

The first person I know to have used letterpress equipment to print on heavy coaster stock is Nils R. Bull Young, whose work at The Tagalong Press is really impressive. While I don’t have the same talent (he creates some beautiful original linocuts), I have printed coasters for a few customers over the past several years and have achieved pretty decent results. The great thing about a coaster is that one almost has to print it in the traditional letterpress mode, as its considerable thickness (from .9 mm to 2 mm, or the thickness of a stack of five to ten or more standard business cards) prohibits one from creating them on a laser or inkjet printer, or just about any device short of some variation of vintage industrial age iron printing technology.

I chose the good and efficient folks at KatzAmericas to provide me with pre-cut 3 7/8″ x 5 3/8″ rectangular coasters in a 1.4 mm medium weight, which meet U.S. Postal Service requirements and come in a neutral cream/ivory color that holds ink well. Their plant in Sanborn, New York is not too far from where my dad established the original Norlu Press in 1937. This coaster will allow me to print a full-panel greeting on one side, and to add some additional text and space for mailing address on the reverse.

An example of a printed Victorian commercial Christmas piece.

For this “post-coaster,” I am trying to capture the look of what a Victorian age grocer or vendor may have included as a Christmas greeting in a package from his store or a printed piece to accompany something like a box of chocolates. Given that most of that work was done with engravings, I won’t be able to replicate it, but a good start will be creating the border to frame whatever content makes its way into the greeting.

To form the border on the long axis of the card, I aligned two of the corner pieces of the border on my imposing stone with the corners of the coaster. When I filled in the straight sections, it took five pieces to bring the corners out to their maximum width. Along the short axis, I placed three sections. After adding some small furniture and spacing material inside of the frame, I had the border I wanted and locked it up in the chase.

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The 1923 ATF 24-point holly, bells and ribbon border, locked up and shown with a blank coaster.

Choosing a color for these vintage types was the next task. The scans made from faded pages of the 1923 ATF Specimen Book and Catalogue clearly showed this monochromatic border printing in green ink, but just which shade was impossible to discern. As a close match, I chose a PMS 357 vegetable-based ink that Rick Harden at Southern Inks specced for me last year when I asked him for “a festive green appropriate for Christmas.”

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The first of my 2016 “post-coasters” coming off the circa 1863 Gordon Jobber letterpress printing press. The gauge pins are sealed in place with wax, which reminds me of the days when I was learning printing and I would have to obtain proper position on the press for each job. When I was certain I had it right, I would show it to my dad, Lewis “Hobie” DiRisio and if it met his standard, he would command, “Seal the pins, James.”

With the air conditioner doing its best to keep the shop tolerable, I have printed the first two hundred or so of the “post-coasters” and am as pleased with this ink on the KatzAmericas coaster stock as I was with it on Lettra last year.

And now that this part of the project is done, I need to move on to the greeting itself, but if something that complements the ATF border does not come to me right away, I may work on the address side of the post-coaster. Whichever approach I embrace, I will post the results here.

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The post-coasters with their green 1923 ATF holly, bells and ribbon border.


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