Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Press of Incredible Provenance

Once upon a time I entertained the thought of starting a private press using an old school letterpress. Let's be honest... I still do. So much so that I drove to Syracuse to pick up a Chandler & Price 10x15 letterpress, and later, a Pearl press.

Both of them now sit in my ex-wife's garage collecting dust.

Today I received an email which made me wish I was independently wealthy with plenty of ground floor studio space, or at least a loading dock and freight elevator. Jeff Dwyer is selling a press owned by the people who made me love letterpress and the black arts.

When I moved to Massachusetts, I answered an ad in the paper for a picture framer at R. Michelson Galleries in Northampton. I figured it was the type of job that I could work around my school schedule. When I arrived for the interview, I took a quick look around the gallery and settled in front of shelves filled with some of the most amazing books I'd ever seen... books the like of which I'd had no idea actually existed. They were hand made art books, printed on letterpress in velvety ink crushed into the paper such that you could feel it as much as see it.

It was this chance encounter that introduced me to the world of printmaking... a world I sadly don't spend as much time in as I'd like. I was also able to meet the people who created these books, two of whom were Leonard Baskin and Barry Moser. The first I only knew briefly and never got to work directly with him. The second became a mentor and friend.

Vandercook & Sons, Inc. No. 2 Proof Press

This press has a long history of ownership and use by some America’s most accomplished fine letterpress alumni. After being manufactured in Chicago around 1935-36, it’s a mystery who owned it and where it was used for the next twenty years. Around 1958, Richard Warren, the owner of Metcalf Printing & Publishing Co. in Northampton, MA gave the press to his friend, Leonard Baskin when Baskin moved his Gehenna Press from Worcester, MA to Northampton. In the summer of 1958, Baskin employed Harold P. McGrath as his pressman for the Gehenna Press, and McGrath continued using the press at Gehenna until 1976. While the press remained in use by McGrath, under his guidance probably more than a hundred young apprentices studied the craft and learned to print. In 1976, the press was moved from Gehenna to its new home at the Hampshire Typothetae at 30 Market St. in Northampton. For the next ten years, McGrath and Barry Moser used it for Moser’s Pennyroyal Press productions. When the Hampshire Typothetae closed and Pennyroyal Press assumed ownership of the Typothetae printing equipment, the press traveled to Linseed Road in West Hatfield, MA. Around, 1987, Moser sold all of the Gehenna/Typothetae/Pennyroyal printing equipment to Alan James Robinson and the Vandercook moved yet again to Easthampton, MA. Harold McGrath followed the equipment out the door, and he continued to use the press until 1998 when Robinson sold it to Elizabeth O’Grady. She moved it to New Hampshire where it has rested quietly. At some point during the years on Market Street, the cast iron drum handle was broken and a welded repair was made. The press is available for $2,500.00. It weighs approximately 675 pounds, and professionals should move it. This price does not include moving or shipping costs. Additionally, also available for $500.00 is a twenty-four-drawer type bank with assorted sizes of Caslon foundry type. Pictures of the press and type bank are available. Contact Jeff Dwyer at (413-5840761) or e-mail at:

I hope it finds a good home with the kind of person who understands just how many wonderful things it has seen. Good luck, little Vandy.