Making a Letterpress Broadside

We’ve been making broadsides for awhile now. First with Chad Pastotnik over at Deep Wood Press (“The Trout in Winter”), and now at our own Big Maple Press. What’s a broadside? We get asked that a lot. In short: a one-page work of art and text suitable for framing.

But there’s more to it than that. The art in this case is intaglio—etchings on zinc plate, which are hand rubbed with ink, placed in an etching press, and embossed deeply into the paper. Glenn then hand colors each one.

The text is hand set with lead type and printed on a Vandercook letterpress, one sheet at a time, each inspected with care to make sure every letter and comma is impressed. The result, as a friend once said, allows you to feel “the way letterpress crushes the tooth of fine paper.”

Anyone who takes a letterpress broadside or book in their hands knows immediately why it has value: because so many of the artifacts of our culture are mass-produced, flimsy, cheap, gaudy, meant to be used and thrown away, digital, weightless, forgettable. We’re trying to makes works of art that you will own for life and pass on to your children.

And when the print run is complete, we retire the etching and disassemble the type and redistribute it back into the type case.

We think Glenn’s process is so cool, we wanted to share it with you.
(Mouseover images for detailed captions. Click any image for slideshow)

This print is now available

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6 Responses

  1. Hey Jerry,

    As someone who has set type a few times, I have to say, your hands are still steady — must have been just the right amount of coffee. Beautiful work, by both of you. Looking forward to seeing the actual print!

    1. Thanks, Steve. Yes, the hands are still pretty steady, but the eyes might be feeling the strain. Thanks for the good wishes and I hope you’re as delighted with the print as we are.

  2. Thank you for sharing this amazing process. Although I can’t relate to production of the plate other than to learn from it, I loved seeing the setting of the type. As a reporter and then co-editor of my high school newspaper now many years ago, we each set the headlines for our stories in the bimonthly newspaper. Then, senior year, my co-editor and I had to set the entire paper (usually 8-10 pages per issue) and run the linotype machine to print it (around 600 copies per issue) when the local newspaper printers stopped our retired linotypist/printer from doing the paper because we were not using a union worker. Thanks for renewing this fond memory!

    1. Thanks for sharing this fun memory, Joanne. That must have been a lot of work for a couple of high schoolers, and I applaud your industry. I can’t help thinking that if I had been introduced to letterpress in high school it might have changed the direction of my life. In college, in Marquette, MI, I stopped at an old-style print shop once or twice a week during my walk home from classes and inquired about opportunities to work there. They were very patient with me, and got to where they laughed every time I came in the door, but, alas, they had no entry-level job openings in the two years that I lived in Marquette. It wasn’t until I met and worked with Chad Pastotnik at Deep Wood Press when I was in my 50s that the fire was ignited.—Jerry

  3. Thanks so much for sending on further information about the letterpress broadside. Though I grew up in northern Michigan I now live near Montreal (Canada). I would very much like to purchase one of your beautiful prints, but I don’t believe it would be possible for you to offer me free shipping. Also, I would need to send payment in the form of a money order in US dollars. I look forward hearing from you concerning these details.

    1. Thank you, Toni. It was thoughtful of you to contact us about arranging payment and shipping to Montreal. We love Canada and have spent a good deal of time there. Happy Holidays!

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