TITLE: An old-fashioned letter press shop in Beijing
STORY: For all intents and purposes in the modern world letter press is really obsolete. But it's also kind of romantic. Some things when you pick up and you hold and they've been printed you want them to just be nicer you want to feel like that some attention has been paid to this rather than someone just pressing a button and shooting papers out. And for those kinds of things, it's given letter press the need to survive and it's allowed people like me to continue this 600 year tradition.
My name is Josh Durum, I'm originally from the US, I grew up in Elizabeth town, Kentucky. So here in Beijing I'm just a country boy kind of fish out of water. Well we run a little letter press shop, because when people letter pressed in China they would need rooms full of type for the characters. It was really... It never really fit China well. Digital and off set plate making became the way that things were done here.
Letter press has really picked up in the US in the past 10 to 15 years. And from what we understood nobody was really doing it here. So it was new to Beijing when we started. And we wanted to bring something that you know even after we leave hopefully persist. My love of letter press is attributed to the love of history. I studied history in college and was a history teacher in the US for 5 years. I was familiar with letter press and I know some of the history of it. In the west we attribute Yohan Gutinberg with inventing movable type. And what I know about that is the invention of movable type created the printing press it spurred the Enlightenment because the power to read unleashed everyone's potential. It destroyed the power structure from the clergy to the kings. That's essentially all I knew of printing from a history perspective.
I had done some screen printing in college. Made T-shirts and things like that. And when my wife introduced me to letter press. I fell in love with it immediately like these old machines are a clear line to our past.
The two presses I use to print on are Goldings. They were made by the Golding company in Boston Massachusetts. The big one the jobber the one that I use on a daily basis is from 1909 is when it was manufactured. The smaller treddle press that I take to art festivals and things, it's from 1882.
Every once in a while, I'll remember this thing has been around for over a 100 years. but it usually takes someone to say something about it for me to really appreciate it. Because it's still a living breathing working piece of machinery, it does its job, so it does what it's supposed to do and I forget how remarkable it is.
It is a kind of commonly accepted among letter press printers that cotton paper produces a very very nice print. It's probably not the only thing that i could use. And I mean I've printed on leather, I've printed on chip board, on bamboo paper, but the cotton paper has to be the industry standard. Like this is what we use to set ourselves apart. It takes and holds an impression very very well so when you print into it, you know I can print with no ink. And you can see exactly, very clearly what it is that I'm printing.
When you look at something that been letter pressed you can recognize it and you can say that it's nicer because of that. But really for me, what makes letter press nicer, is simply the process. It's a practice, it's zen. Any day when I can make somebody pay attention, and see something new, I think I'm enriching their lives a little bit. You know they've got something to go home to talk about, I saw this crazy laowai hand printing name cards in the window. What's wrong with him? Right? So that's good.