The press Kendall's holding (above) is a sweet tabletop Adana which has never given us a moment's heartache. The Chandler & Price Old Series (looming on the right), is another story...
See, the thing about getting a Chandler & Price is not so much whether you can find one, but whether you can move the monster once you do. They are huge. They are unwieldy. They are unbalanced, and they are extremely heavy. And in the words of Steve, the guy I bought my press from: "one slip and it's scrap metal". So if you're trying to get one out of a basement, or up or down stairs, or out of a tight space of any kind, you have a fight on your hands. And the letterpress may well win.
I was lucky – the C&P I tracked down all those years ago was on level ground, in a wide-open sheltered space, being capably cared for by Steve, an extremely motivated letterpress rescuer and collector. Steve spent years collecting these amazing old machines from all up and down the West Coast, saving them from abandonment, disrepair – or, worse, destruction at the hands of metal merchants. Still, unloading the C&P from the Penske truck lift (recommended by a moving professional who had clearly never seen a letterpress) down to level ground took many absolutely hair-raising and sweaty midnight hours, great courage, and several years off my life.
Thanks to some unlikely physics our press survived – IT WAS A MIRACLE – and went on to sturdily survive another move to Mississippi and another move to Colorado, all the while faithfully doing what it was born for: printing beautiful things. Faithfully, but not easily. Letterpress printing on a C&P takes forever. There is no pressing a button. After the hours that go into drawing and lettering and having the magnesium dies made, each print job starts with oiling 40 hard-to-reach oil holes, junctions and joints around the press. Inks are mixed by hand, the press is inked up (it takes a while), test impressions are taken with the forme in the press, gauge pins are very carefully set and adjusted, packing is adjusted, alignment is checked, and that's the short version of makeready. Then printing begins. Every piece of cotton card stock is fed into the press by hand, one by one, on and on, into the hundreds. It's very meditative in one way, but dangerous in at least eight ways, so daydreaming is not on. Each individual color on a letterpress card requires a separate trip through the press: a separate magnesium die, a press cleaning and oiling, re-inking in the new color, and then every step of that process is repeated (especially alignment, which is a big deal). At the end of it all, every piece is checked by hand, trimmed by hand, counted by hand, wrapped and packed by hand, and then everyone is delighted and relieved.
Did I mention we love what we do? It's a dream with many impossible parts, that comes true over and over again.
A little history: Around 1440, the German blacksmith, goldsmith and publisher Johannes Gutenberg (Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg, if you don’t mind) introduced the printing press and movable type to Europe – and in so doing, started the Printing Revolution. Gutenberg's press looked nothing like ours, but every letterpress followed in its footsteps. Many hundreds of years later (1902, to be exact) our Chandler & Price Old Series platen press was built in Cleveland, Ohio. In 2007, we rescued it from its boring retirement in a tiny town on the difficult side of the Cascades, in Washington. Now in 2016, the Chandler & Price has lived in at least five states and has worked gloriously for well over a century, never missing a beat.