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The Lasting Impression of Letterpress Printing
Robert Wilson pries off the metal lid of what looks like a can of paint. “The ink is really thick, almost like honey,” he says, spooning out a small dollop of it before spreading it over the large metal disk of a late 19th century printing press, and starting it up by spinning the wheel and stepping down to meet a rising foot pedal shaped like a “G.” “You have to listen to it,” Wilson said. “You want the ink to sound like, we call it, baby snakes.” Lo and behold, a few moments later the press has warmed up enough that the ink has distributed evenly; as the parts roll over the ink, it emits a small hiss. The press itself is a cacophony of overlapping tunes and rhythms once in full flow. The process of working with the machine is sometimes likened to a dance. Though upwards of 2,000 pounds, one is afforded a lot of control with a manual press and it’s really not dangerous at all, Wilson explains. Wilson is the art director and operations manager of Bowne & Co. Stationers, the print shop attached to the South Street Seaport Museum in Manhattan, New York.