Lab #5

Lab 5 Pulling the Press

As a millennial, I have been typing words on a computer since I learned how to write. I have started printing pages I or others had written in primary school. My family had a printer at home, my school had one, my library had one. There was and still isn’t any obstacles for me to print pages whenever I feel like it. I have never questioned my ability to effortlessly print. Of course I’ve never printed a full book that way and have limited myself to twenty pages at the maximum. So even when reading about the invention of the printing press, it never occurred to me to that printing meant a lot more than printing books. We did read of Gutenberg printing flyers for the church, and the Victoria Press and others printing newspapers. But all those things had nothing to do with my everyday life so I still took my printer for granted.

There was a time when cold metal type was the only way of printing anything, and it was such an incredible invention, so much faster than writing by hand. I was amazed by it, I thought I understood it, but only after doing work with cold metal type myself did I start to loath it. I simply had not realizes just how much work it really was and how difficult that work was. I was charmed by the nostalgia of it and I thought setting type would be fun. Well, it was fun but it was also incredibly frustrating. I made every mistake that could be made. When choosing the type, I chose the wrong letters half the time and had to start over, I set an entire line in the wrong order and had to start over to correct it. I have dropped said line and had to start over one more. Once I thought I was done making mistakes and ready to print, half of the words I had set were gibberish and only half my line appeared on the page. I can only say after using the letterpress myself that I am genuinely surprised eat up so many books were published with such a method.

Of course, if I had had proper training I would have been much better at it, and using a letterpress is still a lot faster than by hand. But at a time in which we have computers and laser printers, it seems baffling anyone would continue using cold metal type instead of the easier, faster alternatives. So why do we still do? Partly I think because of nostalgia. The past always seems prettier than the present, and technologies of the past seem charming and unique because they are obsolete.

But more than nostalgia, I think that people associate using letterpress printing with the printing of valuable “smarter” material. There is an association between the old and the trustworthy Kathy Waldman mentions that “we’ve cast the new technology as the unreliable flibbertigibbet and the relic-like printed book as the trusty source.”(North) In a way, we don’t really trust the new technology, the same way that people didn’t use to trust novels. People feel overwhelmed by the newness of word processors, and the internet and associate printed books with better quality of content. Older methods of printing then, would mean even better quality and more trustworthy content.

And it isn’t as if the current letterpress printers use the exact same methods as people used to use before. They have adapted them to modern technologies, using old machines with newer ones, and making a long, difficult process a little easier. In the video “Tested Learns the Craft of Letterpress Printing”, Rhiannon Alpers explains how they coordinate new and old methods in order to print effectively. The people at the San Francisco Center for the Book probably don’t struggle quite as much as I did. They have made the old modern while giving to the world a perception that they are using sturdier, more trustworthy techniques than the current ones.


North, Anna. “When Novels Were Bad For You.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 14 Sept. 2014,

testedcom. “Tested Learns the Craft of Letterpress Printing.” YouTube, YouTube, 18 Dec. 2012,