Pulling the Press

There are people today using traditional 15th century hand-operated printing presses to create typed works. Why?


How does a printing press differ from an electronic printer?

First, the type must be selected and arranged in physical pieces as opposed to using a word processor program. The arranged type must be assembled into a block, and the press operated by hand. Then the type pieces must be cleaned and sorted back into the font. Every step of the process requires more labor than simply typing the same text up on a computer and printing it out.

So why would someone actively choose to do it the hard way?


“In the furthest corner of the back room, close on the left side of the window, there sits a girl, whose busy fingers and absorbed look show her to be wholly engrossed in her work; neither to the right nor the left does she turn, and, watch her as you may, you will still see her working diligently, working with evident pleasure and satisfaction.”

The English Women’s Journal, A Ramble with Mrs. Grundy

We began with an enumeration of the differences between printing electronically and by hand, not for the sake of clarification, but because that is where we will find the answer to our question.

Someone chooses to make a typed text on a printing press not despite the fact that doing so is harder than using a computer, but because of it. No doubt there is some satisfaction also in the tactile sensations of assembling a line of type, and certainly there are unique aesthetic qualities to the resulting work, but central to the whole experience is the effort that they must put in to get a result.


As human beings, we spend much of our time performing tasks as a result of obligation. Our labor is in service to its results- money, status, or whatever else we need. How we spend our free time is in pursuit of experience- the sensations that accompany a task. That is why we climb mountains, fly kites, or binge-watch television: not because we stand to gain something from the act, but because the act itself is rewarding.