Long Live Letterpress

Guest post by author Martha Chiplis

Ever since I read an article in 2007 which was essentially about the ‘death’ of letterpress, I have wanted to write a rebuttal.

The article was written by a letterpress printer who, soon after writing it, quit printing. (He printed deluxe editions for hire, which were then sold for large amounts of money.)

My reaction was that his perspective was a very narrow one. He was an excellent printer, but he had convinced himself that the kind of letterpress that he practised was not appropriate in the modern world, and therefore had no future.

In For the Love of Letterpress, a new book I have co-authored with Cathie Ruggie Saunders, letterpress printing is alive; it breathes and pulses with life.

Many different approaches to the art and craft are shown in the 200 images in the book, evidence of the enthusiasm of new printers discovering a new love, as well as experienced printers surprising us with a deep understanding of what is possible.

Letterpress survived being discarded by mainstream publishing in the 1980s. The tools and equipment are large and heavy and hard to scrap. They were squirrelled away by enthusiasts – graphic designers, printmakers, and printers who could suddenly acquire for free what once cost thousands of dollars.

Art schools were among the beneficiaries of the treasure.

If ever I doubted the continuation of letterpress printing, that doubt was erased once I began teaching beginners the basics of printing a letterpress book.

The eagerness and excitement that beginners possess in the Type Shop for the first time is evident, even in the face of the sometimes difficult, tedious and slow process.

When Cathie and I began discussing this book, we knew that we wanted to convey the passion we have for letterpress, not just the knowledge we have accumulated.

When we first began receiving images through our call for submissions, we were overwhelmed by the sheer volume, quality and variety; then we were excited by it.

Reading the written descriptions that were sent along with the images (many were poetic explanations of the reasoning behind their aesthetic choices) I was reassured of the living breathing future of letterpress.

And the images included in the book are just the tip of the iceberg! There are so many people doing letterpress today, it would be impossible to include them all in one small volume.

It was necessary to cut out entire chapters. We weren’t able to include printers whom we very much wanted to be in the book.

I hope For the Love of Letterpress is a help to beginners and a spark for the experienced to make more books. If it becomes one in the long line of books about letterpress it will be akin to the students in the SAIC shop for the last 25+ years, connected to history and moving into the future.

Martha Chiplis


Deluxe limited editions are not about content —they are about materials and process. They are exclusively about form, and as such, they are prime examples of function following form: the cardinal sin of design. […] We may all recognize the deluxe limited edition as a book form, but because times change, its materials are so foreign that we do not know how to interact with it.
Russem, p3 Caxtonian February 2007


Learn more about Martha and Cathie’s book here