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ZSR Letterpress: hot off the press

New Rollers on the ZSR letterpress:

New Rollers on the letterpress

ZSR was very fortunate to have the donation of a letterpress by Carl Hein last summer. The press has not been silent in the past few months-quite the opposite. Carl Hein has been visiting Preservation during the fall and spring to help me learn how to operate the press, set type, etc. This fall, Carl and I printed the ZSR holiday card, which was the first real printed piece from the new press. There have also been a few bookmarks. By far the most exciting thing is the discovery that in the Dolmen Press Collection are 17 boxes of printing blocks and plates which were designed to be printed on a letterpress. These blocks incorporate almost every type of print: wood engravings, lino-cuts and metal printing plates. The ZSR holiday card was printed from one of these Dolmen plates. These are wonderful images, often of the Irish countryside.

This is a wood engraving block made by Irish artist, Elizabeth Rivers (1903-1964).

Wood Block-Elizabeth Rivers wood engraving

This is a print Carl Hein and I made from this wood engraving:

Wood Engraving by Elizabeth Rivers

A few weeks ago, I traveled to far-off Clemmons to have new rollers cast for the letterpress. Our rollers were pitted and no longer uniform in size. When this happens, it’ time for new rollers. There, in a small shed behind his home, David Hauser runs a business called Tarheel Roller. David took the 3 rollers I brought, and cut the old roller material off the metal rod.

Cutting off old letterpress roller

The metal rod was then cleaned with a wire brush>

Cleaning the metal rod to re-cast a letterpress roller

The cleaned rod is then wrapped with twine to give the material something to adhere to when it is cast:

Winding twine on the metal rod before re-casting

A mixture of dried glue, water, glycerin and orange pigment is mixed and cooked in a large copper kettle, which is mechanically stirred.

Copper kettles to cook casting material

The cooked composite material is then pumped into a large cylindrical device with hollow tubes. The rods of each roller sit perfectly in the center of each tube and the rollers are cast in this way.

Device to cast letterpress rollers

After cooling, the cast rollers are stored in a wooden box until ready for use.

New Rollers

Not only are there lots of printing plates in the Dolmen Collection left to print, there is also a box of unused lead type. With brand new rollers, there will hopefully be many more exciting printed pieces.

6 Comments on ’ZSR Letterpress: hot off the press‘

  1. Rebecca

    Very cool! And such a lovely orange color.

  2. Mary Beth

    Its amazing how many artisans there are out there keeping these arts alive. It’s great that there are some things that you can’t just buy at a big box store.

  3. Susan

    Love your story , complete with pictures! How lucky we are to have this Tarheel Roller right in our community!

  4. Patty

    Craig, you have the best job in the library. What a cool process. Thank you for the pictures and letting us share in the making of the new rollers!

  5. Hubert

    Craig, all this reminds me of David Faber’s Printmaking class! Very cool!

  6. makaraef

    It’s great that this old press has found a new life. Thanks for this posting!