Support for Free Letterpress Shop and Teaching Space

Last year, I started in a small way of setting up a free for non commercial use letterpress shop. The first press installed is a Reliance proofing press. Earlier this month, I drove to Iowa to pick up a 7 x 11 Kelsey Star and type case. This press needs minor work but will also be ready to use by the end of May. I also have the option to buy 51 trays of different type and other supplies.

The goal of this project is to set up a place where the equipment and some basic supplies are free to use. I am also teaching classes and selling some of what is printed to support the project. This far, we have the space, several presses (The Reliance Proofing Press, a Kelsey 5 x 8, the Kelsey Star 7 x 11, some equipment and so forth).

I am posting to ask for advice, and support. I think this is a worthy project, and I am dedicating non working time to it. I hope that anyone near central Wyoming can make use of it. To help get this project started, we have set up a go fund me

If you can help, or you have any questions, please let me know. I look forward to hearing from those in the community.



image: The Kelsey Star

The Kelsey Star

image: The Reliance press

The Reliance press

Log in to reply   2 replies so far

It’s a good idea. It sounds like you are well on your way to achieving it. You also sound like you have lots of space which will be crucial as you expand. You’re also wise to ask for feedback here.

A few thoughts come to mind:

* You don’t just have a Reliance proof press but a Reliance “iron hand press.” Get to know the iron hand press printers on this site. You can do a lot more with your Reliance than pulling page proofs. Do you have the corners to which the tympan and frisket may be attached? You can get into small book production, large printing plate work, multi-color work, multiple project work and so much more.

* Also - as a matter of nomenclature - I’m a bit confused by the meaning of “trays.” Did you mean type in cases or did you mean type in galleys which may mistakenly be called “trays”? The reason I ask is, with that many galleys of type, you’re going to have to set aside a good deal of time for sorting the type into cases. If the type is pied, you’re going to need even more time. On a working man’s schedule, I found I needed by myself a full week of evenings to sort pied 10 point type into just one case where the case was full when I finished. You can figure out for yourself how much time my project to sort 12 cases of pied type took me. :)

* Since you’re working with other people, trusting the printers who will use your machines is important. How do you plan to vet the people who will use your presses? How will you find out to your satisfaction that they know what they are doing on a printing press? Are you able to teach what you know? What kind of training did you have around a press? These all are important questions.

* Make sure you have a liability policy on your place. Most of us who rent space for our shops have them, in case someone slips or falls. It’s common sense.

Good luck in your venture. Give us all a progress report on this page on how you’re doing. :)

J. Archibald,

Thank you so much for your comments. I appreciate and am taking them to heart your comments and thank you for your time.

First - space. I am blessed to have, perhaps not a lot of space, but enough to make it workable for now. I am doubly blessed that, because Art 321 is supporting this concept, the space is free (they agree to the space if I agree to loan the press(es) and do some teaching). I am not sure how this would work without that. So I am thankful everyday for that.

I agree with your characterization of the Reliance - so I am changing that. And I will reach out to those in this forum on hand presses. You are right - one can do an amazing amount with this press. Even without a tympan frame, using some very basic methods of registration (and a lot of care), I can make two color broadsides, where some letters are one color and others a second. But then the registration doesn’t have to be as precise for this as it does for other work.

The Reliance does not have any mounts for, or a tympan frame, but I am getting one made. I used to work in rare books libraries and museums, so following the principles I learned there, I am not making any modifications to the press - everything will be reversible. Thankfully, in Casper, there is a person who not only has a machine shop but some letterpress experience. So he has an understanding of what I want and the ability to make it so that is who will be making this. With a tympan frame (and as important - careful chase setup/block making), this press will make beautiful multi-color prints.

Sorry for the confusion, the type sorted into California type cases. I have had to go through the process of sorting type and it was tedious. I once got a small Sigwalt. It came with two chases from the last completed job (done in 1939) and box of mixed type. The seller said they dumped the type into the box from the trays because it was easier to ship that way. And maybe it was …

On liability, Art 321 and I have thought very carefully about this. Everything that happens at the facility is already Art 321’s liability (and they, for a non-profit have a fairly robust policy as they teach arts that have serious risk injuries, like pottery, which uses a high temperature kiln). Injuries resulting from the specific use of the press are covered by me (pinching, working with the glass inking plates …). So I think - hope - I guess one can never know - that we are adequately covered. And the press is free to use, but the process we have now is that, at least once a month, I have a basic class on press operation - how to use the press, how to ink … to how to clean. Also, those wanting to use the press sign a simple release of liability saying using the press is at their risk.

I have also given very careful consideration to the presses I am using. All, including the Kelsey Star I just got, are manual presses. This is by choice. While it is possible to injure yourself with a manual press, as soon as something starts to hurt or pinch, you stop. I would not place, in a shop like this, a motorized press. There is too much risk.

And I learned printing on my own and through college. My parents got me a Kelsey 5 x 8 when I was 8 (I don’t know why but it was a great gift for me). Without anyone to teach me, I poured over the Kelsey book and a few other resources that I had and learned what I could. In college, I studied English and book history. As part of this, I took courses in book arts, where I learned more about using the college’s C & P. I am the first to admit that I am not an expert and I am absolutely still learning, but I am very comfortable teaching what I know, and being honest about what I do not. Maybe the learning in this project will go both ways - I’ll learn as much as I teach others. I feel very confident that I can teach someone how to make a block, set type, compose a page. I can teach them how to safely use the press to make a clean impression. And I can teach how to clean and maintain the equipment. But I hope to get as much out of this project as they do.

And, as an update, we got our Kelsey Star unloaded and working yesterday. I don’t think I can post a video here, but after a bit of tinkering, I got it to run smoothly using the treadle.

Thank you again for your insight. I appreciate it.