Letterpress Adventures: Press Day 1

Press group prints crop
elementia editors and the broadsides we printed at Hammerpress.

Two years ago, while working as a teen editor for elementia magazine, I was introduced to letterpress printing when we went to Hammerpress to print broadsides for the magazine’s Best Of special edition. For years my mother, lover of vintage and antiques, had been trying to get me interested in old style writing—i.e. a typewriter. While I like the idea of a typewriter, I was never as enamored with it as I was when I met a printing press. A Vandercook proof press, to be exact, that had me in love with letterpress from the first moment.

Block print carving
Lino stamp carving! The carving is of my two young roosters (half carved in this photo).

A year later, I went back to Hammerpress with my friend for my 21st birthday. Being the kind of person who spends their 21st birthday at a stamp carving workshop at a letterpress studio pretty much tells you all you need to know about me. (I am the young adult stereotype’s worst nightmare.)

After that, we moved across country to Florida, effectively stranding me away from everything I’d known. Shortly after moving I found Print St. Pete, a nearby letterpress studio. I attended an open house they held, then a letterpress basics workshop, which was designed to teach students enough about the occupation that they could rent studio space and use the equipment on their own. I didn’t get a chance to rent their studio before we had to move again (that’s a novel in itself), and being 3 hours away I don’t see myself getting the chance to do so now.

IMG_6873 copy
Coaster I printed on a small tabletop press at Print St. Pete.

Once again I began looking for another, closer letterpress studio but this time I met with no success. Finally, I joined an online Florida letterpress group in the hopes someone in the group could point me toward a studio or individual I hadn’t discovered. While I still haven’t found any letterpressers near me, one of the group members offered me an old tabletop press he didn’t have room for. The best part? The price was free!

Sigwalt Press (3)
My new-to-me press!

Of course, “free” is a relative term. I didn’t have to buy the press, but I will be spending time and money to get the rollers recovered, weld the ink disk back onto its shaft, and scrub the rust off the press. But since I got the press free of charge, it means I actually have the funds to pay for those repairs! It will take time to get the press up and working, but this way I can get the project done piece by piece, instead of shelling out ±$1,500 up front for a fully restored and functional press.

During the week before I went to collect the press, I spent every day scouring the internet to try to find not only information on how to restore it, but just exactly what kind of press it was. It had no marks on it, and any that might have been in the paintwork were long since rubbed away or covered in rust. From looking at photographs, I finally tracked down the most likely match; a Sigwalt Ideal 6×9. Manufactured from around 1920 to 1960, the Sigwalt Ideal is often touted as a high quality press, sometimes even ranking above more abundant tabletop presses like the Kelsey. It is also one of the biggest tabletop presses ever made, making it more versatile and useful for a greater variety of projects. A win for me!

1957 advertisement for Sigwalt presses. Mine is the Ideal No. 5.

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