By Natalie Walker
This past summer, I spent 2 weeks road-tripping up the west coast to Washington. Along the way, I explored some amazing cities. One of these was the thriving city of Portland, Oregon. I loved exploring thrift stores, eating delicious food, and taking in every sight. While we were walking down the street, We noticed a table with a typewriter on it. We decided to sit down at the table and realized there was paper in the typewriter, inviting everyone who passed by to type something. We make a shopping list for our camping supplies for the next few days and took our souvenir with us. Above our breakfast items, the paper read, "Oblation Papers and Press." (as you can see below!)
We walked into the store and were overwhelmed with the smell of fresh paper and the towers of displays. Delicate handmade greeting cards, notebooks, and art entranced me. However, nothing in the shop was more fascinating than the girl making prints on an old fashioned press. I had never seen a letterpress machine before, and I didn't realize that there were retail stores that still used them.
It was after visiting Oblation Papers and Press. that I was inspired to take this class, so I thought I would pay homage to Oblation Papers and Press for this project.
Oblation Papers and Press was founded in 1989 by Rob and Jennifer Rich. They began making their own papers in their blender! They began selling their handmade books to markets and galleries all along the west coast. With the addition of a letterpress machine, they were able to create custom wedding invitations and eventually opened up their studio and retail store.
Not only is Oblation a letterpress studio, they are also a paper mill. The skilled papermakers at Oblation use traditional papermaking techniques using cotton to create their sheets. Interestingly, the cotton used for their paper comes from recycled clothing garments. While this is their specialty, they also produce different types of paper, such as museum board, 100% pcw papers, and bamboo paper.
Oblation values the history, craftsmanship, romance, and beauty of traditional letterpressing techniques. All of their pressed products are produced on cast-iron platen presses. Some of their presses date back 100 years! With each piece they create, they are putting a little bit of history into it. They produce anything from calendars, notebooks, ephemera, custom event invitations, and most famously, custom wedding invitations. There is something special about knowing that each piece of paper has been crafted by hand- from the paper- to what is printed on it.
In addition to these handmade creations, Oblation also carries papers made from all over the world. Like any letterpress studio, Oblation clearly values the techniques of the past. They also sell French wax seals to perhaps put an even more personal touch to a letter written on handmade paper.
Oblation has a green approach in everything that they do, which is another tiny tidbit that makes them amazing. Alongside their recycled cotton, Oblation also takes unwanted paper products and turns them into a pulp that can be used to make new paper. Oblation also uses wind energy to power their shop. The balance of an old process with a modern green approach is very cool!
Oblation means, "a gift or offering." This is a proper name for something that is such a gift to all of us! I feel that simply visiting Oblation Papers and Press was a gift, as I was introduced to the process of letterpress and have come to appreciate the art. I hope to visit more letterpress studios and hopefully will continue to be inspired!
Wai Che Printing Company
One of the Last Remaining Letterpress Shop in Hong Kong
By Jessica Chhou
As trends tend to resurface ever so few years, it appears letterpress printing has made its comeback within the art and design community. While the Western letterpress printing has made a revival, what was once considered one of the Four Great Inventions of Ancient China is no longer a sustainable practice.
Although many are unaware, the earliest origins of letterpress were actually conducted in the land of the Far East. During the Song Dynasty (960-1279), Bi Sheng invented the Movable Type. He carved individual characters on identical pieces of fine clay that would eventually be fired to be durable for printing. This concept of mass-producing literature developed very quickly. The introduction of printing in China dramatically lowered the price of books, thus aiding the spread of literacy. It also gave a boost to the development of drama and other forms of popular culture as the scripts became inexpensive to produce. Eventually, the art became popular, and advancements lead movable type to being composed from wood, lead, tin, and copper. From copper type, became a very influencing concept to the great Johannes Gutenberg..
As Movable Type was one of the greatest technological advances defining typography, it is upsetting to see Wai Che Printing Company being the last remaining letterpress shop in Hong Kong in 2012. From Central to Sheung Wan, the streets used to be filled with printers, print shops, and other paper-related storefronts. The shop’s 81-year old owner Lee Chak Yu has preserved its bilingual lead type collection and original Heidelberg Cylinder machine for over 50 years.
Upon entering the Chinese letterpress shop, there are rows of shelves of type. Instead of using a type drawer, the Chinese characters were typically stored in cube shelving with the type stacked into a column. They face outward for easy identification and access. However, with the vast language, it became very difficult to create a system to categorize the type. They had no alphabet, and with new words evolving, there were endless Chinese characters. In practice, it would be difficult to work with more than 45,000 unique characters. Typesetting in Chinese was a challenge and the accuracy needed was on a whole different level especially when the characters were made of many radicals and ideograms. Running a Chinese letterpress shop would require an enormous storage space and at least 4,000 commonly used characters. Many businesses were affected when they were unable to source new characters when needed. Little by little, the print shops in Hong Kong shut down, including the last one standing, Wai Che Printing Company.
The space where Wai Che lies was under high demand due to development and gentrification. Similar to the shops around, the government wanted to take over to use it for redevelopment. However, the owner wanted to turn his shop into a museum. Lee Chak Yu wanted to spread the knowledge of movable type and engage the visitors into hands-on activities of letterpress. He wanted to show the visitors the history of the neighborhood of Sheung Wan and educate the ways things were before the digital age.
Sadly, his idea did not catch on and on one winter day, the shop was all packed up and moved to a different location. It appears Lee Chak Yu would not have his shop as a historic museum. He left with optimism as one day he can share his stories of the past.
About one year ago, I took a letterpress workshop with Nancy Hill of Hazel & Violet Ink. She took us through very basic letterpress printing along with a tour of the studio, where she explained each press she owns with her business partner. Throughout the tour, she explained how she came to run her own print shop, almost by accident! For my research project I decided to interview with Nancy, to find out more about what it is like to run a print shop in the heart of Downtown Phoenix, Arizona.
Tilton Development Company purchased the southwest corner of Fourth and McKinley in early 2014, evicting all businesses that had resided in that corner lot. Several businesses were forced to move to other locations as a result, but Hazel & Violet was excited to move into a larger shop with a closer proximity to the First Friday happenings (2).
Lauren: Can you tell me about where your shop is located in Downtown Phoenix, and why you chose to set up your shop at this location?
Nancy: My shop is at 1301 NW Grand Avenue #6 on the McKinley side street.
Longtime friends Nancy Hill and Beverly Wolfe hit the jackpot with a Craigslist post by a man retiring from the printing business, they knew they were onto something. The women's work flow is pretty close to how it was done a hundred years ago; they feed each page, by hand, into their 1922 Chandler & Price letterpress they affectionately call "Beauty." They have cases and cases of type in different sizes and fonts, plus some hard-to-find wooden type. At one point, they had so much extra type that they unloaded a bunch to the ASU print shop (3).
Lauren: How long has Hazel & Violet been in business?
Nancy: Since 2008.
Lauren: How did you get into the business of letterpress?
Nancy: My business partner, Beverly Wolfe and I wanted to get a small tabletop press in an effort to express our love of typography and paper. We looked on Craigslist for a while and finally found a full letterpress shop for sale in Apache Junction. We bought it and completely redid her double car garage in Ahwatukee, turning it into a print shop. We both had full time jobs so we printed into the night and on weekends.
Lauren:What is the backstory on how your shop came to fruition?
Nancy: When we first got the press, cutter, type, etc. we got hooked up with a national group called 'Ladies of Letterpress' - through them we decided to go to the National Stationery Show in NYC. There we learned that we did not want to be in the wholesale business - so we turned our attention to commercial and custom letterpress. The business became full time in 2013.
Lauren: I remember there being a story about how you obtained your original presses for the shop, can you refresh my memory on that?
Nancy: We have since moved our shop - first to 724 N. 4th Street and then to the Grand Avenue location. We now have 1500 sq ft and a great location for workshops and art shows.
Lauren: Where were your presses previous to being in your shop?
Nancy: The original owner was Jack Judah in Apache Junction - He and his father had the business for many years.
Hazel and Violet INK has transitioned from a local clientele to courting national buyers at trade shows, but is now circling back to a more local focus (3).
Lauren: What has been the most challenging part of owning a letterpress shop?
Nancy: Making money.
Lauren: Can you tell me about your current projects?
Nancy: We do more wedding invitations and announcement than anything - but we also do business cards, menu covers, greeting cards, coasters and art prints.
In the interview and through online research, I was able to find out how the shop came to be, history of the presses, and the ups and downs of owning a small business in Downtown Phoenix, Arizona. I really enjoyed getting to know more about Nancy and Hazel & Violet Ink through this process.