Printing with pride

The devil is in the detail. At the South Street Seaport in downtown Manhattan, Bowne & Co is a unique commercial printer that almost exclusively uses technology from the 19th century to create hand crafted stationery. A working museum, the staff work magic with presses and heavy paint in a process that survives in only a handful of places around the country. The skill and labour intensiveness is astonishing. There are 1,800 draws of type, all different shapes and sizes, some metal, some wood, that you not only have to find but also return post printing to the right spot, polished off with a horse-hair brush. There are plates built like lego sets from a jigsaw of metal pieces, or molded from magnesium to depict city skylines, chickens or flags. Layers and layers of patience are built into every process, not to mention the pride that it can still be done.

Clipper cards, advertising shipping services between New York & San Francisco, were an early market for printers. There were ‘remember to vote’ cards, self stamped envelopes and newspapers, all requiring a distinctive look. In fact it was one of the founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, who brought many type designs to America. And strangely, it is presidents who have continued to make type – or font – famous. Obama put his custom version of gotham on the map with ‘yes we can, his rival Mitt Romney took himself off the map by using a font for his campaign without paying for the copyright. Hillary Clinton is using unity as her main typeface this election season, and Trump is using Akzidenz-Grotesk BQ Bold Extended. Say no more!

When Hurricane Sandy blew into NYC at the end of October 2012, she left three feet of water in Browne & Co’s printing shop. All those hundreds of drawers with their thousands of tiny pieces of type were awash. With no electricity and the chaos of water and sand and salt, the printing machines and all their supporting apparatus could easily have been lost. But suddenly 300 people turned up to volunteer their help. They didn’t get a written invitation, but they certainly ensured those vintage presses could send out a thank you…


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This entry was posted in art & inspiration, Fun, Museums and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Printing with pride

  1. Harry Georgeson. says:

    I find this more interesting than coffee shops, although I enjoy your blog. Thank you.

  2. technanna says:

    To this retired journalist who can remember the days of hot metal this is story is a gem. thank you.

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