Letterpress books for beginners

Can anyone recommend a good ‘how to get started in letterpress’ book ?


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Don’t take my word for gospel, I have seen it posted around a few other places but “Printing for pleasure” John Ryder was a great window for me.

Check out the Excelsior Press site, he has a wealth of information, i think the four roses site is helpful, this info is in the yellow pages on this site. Dick G.

“Letterpress Printing” (Paul Maravelas) gives a nice nontechnical overview of letterpress printing, The reissue of “General Printing” (Cleeton/Pitkin; reissued by Liber Apertus Press) is invaluable. It was originally issued as a text book. You can find just about everything you need to know in it.

In addition to “Printing for Pleasure” and “General Printing,” I would also recommend “The Practice of Printing” by Ralph Polk. It is, arguably, one of the best books on letterpress printing ever written. Make sure you find one of the earlier editions; the later editions of the manual focus more on incorporating offset printing into your work flow rather than letterpress.


If you’re at a book store or on line; and see printing texts by some newbies referring to type DRAWERS, galley TRAYS, type SETS, a glossary fron MOXON’S time, and FLOOR presses. PUT IT BACK. Let’s teach our kids and grandkids the real trade. Deep in tradition for centuries, let’s keep it that way. They’ll learn on their own about deep impression, photopolymer, boxcar base, tape on your trunnions or roller tracks. etc., etc.
Learn the trade, the tricks will come later!

To Stanilaus~
Amen, brother.

Here is another book that all should take a look at.
Current information for todays printer.
Marty has done a wonderful job on this book.

A 21st-Century Guide to the Letterpress Business [Paperback]
Marty Brown (Author) Portland Oregon.
ISBN 1603370064
Available on Amazon

An oldie but goody:

The American Printer, by Thomas D. MacKellar.

Rummonds “Printing on the Iron Hand Press has become for me THE essential reference source for actual Practice …so many of the other very lovely books are 1. memoirs with scattered bits of how to information or inspirational encouragements OR are aimed at trade printing
Rummonds covers every aspect of the art including design typesetting shop arrangement etc etc etc in a beautifully written (and produced) text
For Handpress work there is simply nothing to compare to its breadth But it can most certainly guide and inspire a general letterpress printer as well
Once I stumbled into this book I also invested in his 19th Century Printing Practice (2 Volumes!!) which is a tap-root
all best

These Rummonds books consolidate information from many other hard-to-find sources. Rummonds’ experience on the hand-press allows him to take earlier practices and apply them to modern handset composition and hand-press printing. But they are more intermediate-to-advanced level, and won’t do anything to help someone struggling to print from photopolymer on a tabletop platen, a most common BriarPress situation. But then neither will the Maravelas book.

John Ryder’s “Printing for Plleasure” is a great little book with a great many different ideas, some of which would be frowned on by master printers. One of these is locking up loose lines in one direction only without jusifying the lines and plates. This may cause the type to get off its feet and smashed. Using lye to clean type is another. Of course carbon tetrachloride (type wash) may be considered to be just as dangerous.This is my opinion, others may disagree.

Besides the titles listed above, I would recommend the following titles for some most basic skills:

First Principles of Typography - by Stanley Morison
Elementary Platen Press Printing - by Ralph Polk
Introduction to Printing - by Herbert Simon
Introduction to Typography - by Oliver Simon
Printing Explained - by Herbert Simon & Harry Carter
The Case for Legibility - by John Ryder
Anatomy of a Typeface - by Alexander Lawson
A Tally of Types - by Stanley Morison
A Composition Manual - Printing Industries of America, Inc.
Type for books and advertising - by Eugene Ettenberg
The Private Press - by Roderick Cave
Printing Presses - by James Moran
American Metal Typefaces of the Twentieth Century - Mac McGrew
American Wood Type 1828 -1900 - Rob Roy Kelly

And three books I have found very useful for design ideas:

Mastering Layout - by Mike Stevens
1000 Practical Show Card Layouts - by H. C. Martin
Crane’s Blue Book of Stationery - Steven L. Feinberg editor

There are so many excellent books on printing I would recommend that you look up some of these titles at a local library and start pulling books off of the shelf. The best printing education I received outside of actual work, was the two years I had access to the printing and typography section of the Hesberg Library at Notre Dame University. Fifteen years later I am still seeking out titles I read during that time.

If you have a local book store look for their section of books on books, you’d be surprised how many fine books on the subject you can locate for just a few dollars. Most books have bibliographies which list works cited in the text, these are excellent sources for future reading.


Many thanks to all of you who have taken the time to recommend your choice of books.
I’ll be adding some of them to my “Amazon” christmas list!