5

Disappearing jobs: Letterpress operator (video)

A linotype that reads, "Kai Ryssdal."

In the days before laser printers and ebooks and tablets, a company like Aardvark Letterpress would be using gears, cogs and actual pots of molten lead to make molds for business cards and posters. Actually, today -- they still use the same technology.

Cary Ocon and his family own and run Aardvark Letterpress, using relief printing which literally presses ink into paper, leaving a slight indentation. They're based in downtown Los Angeles and Ocon will tell you they still use technology that originated with Gutenberg. 

Ocon remembers when there were a lot of letterpress companies in Los Angeles. He says he remembers days when they had trouble paying rent and bills. "Everyone else died off and now there aren't a lot of places to go -- it's us."

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.
Log in to post5 Comments

There are 5-7 letterpress printers in Phoenix. We all work in different ways - but, we are all carrying on the letterpress tradition. Thanks for the article.

Beyond the fact that Aardvark printing does exceptional work, Gary Ocon is a very kind person, a trait that never gets enough mention in this world!

That Nameslug is from a Ludlow Typecaster, the mats are collected by hand, put in a stick, inserted into the caster, the caster fills the mats with molten Lead and ejects a cast Line, The stick is removed, the spacers and the mats returned to their proper places.

Letterpress has been experiencing a comeback for some years now, being supported by several colleges and universities which include Letterpress relief printing in their Book Arts programmes. Most major cities has at least one Letterpress Studio / Shop. Here in Central Florida we have, aside from myself, 9th Letter Press, Mama's Sauce, and over in the Bay area, probably about five active, quite unique Letterpress operations. Yup, after five hundred years, Gutenberg meets the Digital Age. Although, at my shop at Paper Wren, we still set with Foundry Type, a'la Colonial Williamsburg.
-gary
www.paperwrenpress.com

That's cool! I'm part owner of a shop called La Cucaracha Press in Kansas City and I was actually printing on our treadle powered letterpress as I heard this story and I'm happy to hear about another shop on Marketplace. Our shop is only a couple years old but we have the same battles keeping afloat, but there's definitely a place in this world for hand printed goods. We may have gone digital, but the tactile is still here.

With Generous Support From...