Letterpress printing is the oldest, most iconic printing technique, and it was developed by Gutenberg around 1450. To create letterpress prints, operators place raised image or letter blocks made of metal or wood into a large collapsible frame. They then ink the raised blocks and press the frame down onto sheets of high-quality paper, including vellum, Rives BFK paper, and Arches paper. By the late 1700s, lithographic printing had supplanted the more laborious process of creating letterpress prints. However, letterpress printing made a strong comeback in the mid-20th century with the introduction of metal-cut plates for commercial and brand imaging. Today, hundreds of boutique and large letterpress printing shops are producing output that, in addition to wedding invitations and other ephemera, include special-event broadsides and artwork with the traditional texturing of letterpress, along with its deep, bold styling.
Many of today's collectible letterpress prints benefit from the digitized process of creating image blocks from computer-file images on block-cutting machines. Some prints consist of block lettering on sheets that already contain lithographed images. Letterpress printers have created a wide variety of collectible letterpress prints, including limited edition commemorative broadsides for special events like bicentennial celebrations or poetry and essay readings by locally or nationally renowned writers. Many of the broadsides contain letterpress calligraphy or lithographed engravings, and the letterpress prints normally include the signature of the writer or artist being celebrated.
Metal-cut print art and letterpress plates for commercial branding are also available for purchase, many dating from the heyday of ad work in the 1930s and 1940s. Even local businesses were commissioning letterpress prints of their commercial ventures, including restaurants, nightclubs, and candy shops. Prints of national brands are among the more highly collectible of this letterpress printing, including graphics of well-known dairy mascots and Disney characters. Many other vintage letterpress print images from that ad era are also highly prized, with plates for locomotives, Native Americans, unique architectural structures, and holiday commemorations.
What could make you feel closer to history than owning an antique letterpress print?