Before Apple Computer took our jobs!

Log in to reply   19 replies so far

tools change with the times see how I did that?

A classic film. But you forgot about phototype and offset. And to be fair: Linotype took the jobs of hand compositors, hand compositors, and printing in general, took the jobs of scribes. It’s called progress. Labor and quality are often the first casualties as new technologies rise. We are fortunate that it’s no longer a zero-sum game. The old fellers (the technological and aesthetic leaders) would be impressed by what can be achieved today. Perhaps, more so that letterpress is still in the mix. Letterpress has been reinvigorated by photopolymer and even some lead purists promote their work and services on websites—-like this one).

It all started with cave paintings in France—will it never end?

I am sorry I posted this!

I thought everyone would enjoy it, but, everyone only see the fact, that the new way is cool!

Aaron, this is called discussion. It’s perfectly normal.

And “Farewell ETAION SHRDLU” has been around for many years and many of us have seen it a number of times. Its creator, Carl Schlessinger was active until his death in printing organizations, like the American Typecasting Fellowship, where I met him. He has even operated my Linotype in my shop here in the middle of nowhere. It’s a great film, and it signaled an end of an era that started on the downhill slope long before the founding of Apple in 1976. The computer was not the sole reason hot metal met what really was its timely death—the reasons are many and varied and we should be over the shock of it by now. The computer, et al, is amazing, but more so is a Lintoype/Intertype caster and any of the Monotype machines.

A view of Carl at the 2010 ATF conference in Piqua, Ohio is here:

A fellow in the printing industry sent me the link the other day. I loved it, as I work at a daily for a short time, before starting my own printing business.
The good looking lady as the page editor caught my eye, and wished she was one of the page editors when I was working, at the Houston Post, I wouldn’t had left to start my own shop.

Thanks for sharing, always worth watching this gem again :)

My mom ran a knitting machine pattern writing/publishing business for most of my childhood. She paid for her first book to be professionally typeset and printed, and found the process expensive and frustrating. In 1984, she bought the first Macintosh when it came out, and armed with her computer, a laser printer, photocopier, and a generous supply of child labour, she was able to run a successful business. Computers didn’t kill anything, they nurtured an explosion of possibilities.

I grew up in this environment, I would have been 3 when she bought that first mac. I was the only kid bringing laser-printed essays to school, written directly Quark Xpress. I learned about good typography, leading, hyphenation and justification before I could write cursively. For me, the technology was and continues to be ‘cool’.

And yet here I am filling my garage with linotypes, printing presses, lead type and ink, and filling my head with history of the art of printing from the days before computers and desktop publishing. And I think it’s ‘cool’. DTP and letterpress each have their happy place in my head. It’s not one or the other. I like them both.

Aaron, what I’m about to I’ve write I’ve written before, and others have written this to you before, but I’ll write it again because I like being ignored:

Commercial letterpress is dead.

The demand for boxes of pre-printed forms and letterheads is gone. Businesses don’t want paper anymore, and those that still need printed items want it cheap. Nobody wants their run-of-the-mill items printed expensively when a cheaper, faster, and in all ways better option is available. Commercial letterpress is dead. Move on.

Other avenues of letterpress work are obviously thriving, but you need to understand your audience and sell to that audience if you want to be successful.


I posted this video to remember people what it once took to put together a newspaper everyday.

I was once part of it

I am no longer a letterpress printer, as of two weeks ago.

Selling off my letterpress as I find people willing pay me for my stuff.

I didn’t start my shop to make money, just wanted to bring money so I would stop working at a grocery shop at $9.50 a hour. And, was hoping people would want to come to my shop and see how print was done in the days before computers.

I had a Scrap Metal Dealer come over last week, but he only wanted to give me $500 for all my stuff.

I think a V50, 8x12, 19” cutter, Intertype, Ludlow and 40 fonts of mats are worth more than $500.

I want to thank everyone for telling me what a fool I am to want to keep letterpress alive.

Paying rent and groceries with earnings from typeset, metal printing today seems to be as dicey as mixing oil and water. I guess it can be done, but . . . .

Remember, the good ole days had their recurring moments.

The composing room at the Atlanta Constitution featured scores of line casters jammed side by side in long rows. I still get tickled by what one career old timer told me about the procedure in place when an operator had to go out of the line to relieve himself. And often under these conditions there were beastial flagellation issues as well. Of course.

Yet, still, it must be Love. How can you argue with Love?

Wm. J. Murray

Odd, I’ll have to figure out what I’m doing that seems to pay the bills (though not as thoroughly as I’d prefer). In addition to my own business, I also print for a local card house (Windmill - poly plates) and foil stamp choir folders (handset type or Ludlow slugs).

Still, if you intend to be in the business, you need to specify what it is you really want to do. You probably won’t make much typesetting on any hot metal machine, but if you use the slugs for printing specialties (bags or tags) you just might do well.

I make most of my business in die-cutting. It isn’t glamorous, but there’s no stock to buy and the work is pretty straightforward. I think in a market as big as metro Houston, Aaron could find customers, but until you have a couple key, core customers, it’ll be tough to get steady income numbers.

One thing for certain, you can’t be all things to all comers. It’s terribly enticing, but tends to lead into work at the edges of expertise. Likewise, trying to jump right into the overnight/next day trade—ok with an established client, but a recipe for heartburn with people falling out of the sky—with they texting in hand and no firm idea how the process works, aside from pushing a button.

I think if Aaron did have those two or three steady clients, it’d make life a lot simpler for him. I hope things will settle out for him and he can achieve his goals with his shop, but I’m not in Houston and the advice that works in my sub 100,000 metro area probably won’t translate elsewhere.

Best of luck, as ever.

Michael Seitz
Quality Letterpress Printing

Keelan said “Commercial letterpress is dead” as a matter of fact, however, I’d like to challenge that assertion to some extent. Many commercial shops have letterpress as an integral part of their operations—for example, see a typical printer’s list of equipment located in Omaha, Nebraska that probably no one on this list has heard of:

and if they have capability of up to 35” in their letterpress department as indicated, that’s a serious press and not a Kelsey 3x5.

Ask Dave Seat what he’s doing for several weeks in November and December and it will be tending 8 Linotypes working 12 hour shifts in New Jersey—doesn’t sound dead to me.

And there are plants all over the country with letterpress equipment who aren’t selling on etsy—there’s a large shop in Colorado Springs that is currently offering 3 of their 13x18 Heidelbergs for sale on an auction site, and I had never heard of them, but quite a large operation.

All this discussion and Aaron’s difficulties reminds me of my old letterpress instructor from college, George Mills. He ended up back home in Ft. Smith, Arkansas, operating a store front shop that was 100% letterpress. He had 3 Miehle Verticals, a C&P automatic Craftsman, a Heidelberg cylinder for a while, Linotype with one in reserve, a folder, paper cutter, and the related material plus a nice selection of hand set type—and who did he print for? He printed for a steady stream of people bringing in work from copy shops, quick print places, and larger commercial shops who needed typical trade letterpress work. He would imprint, score, number, die cut what these other people couldn’t do, and most of it was a one day turn around. He also printed from type the Arkansas Quarterly magazine for the state historical society 4 times a year, which he set on the Linotype.

He had a two tier pricing system, all based on increments of $10. Work that required invoicing was twice as much as work paid in cash on delivery. The week I spent with him was watching a lot of 10 and 20 dollar bills going into his pocket, and very few invoiced jobs. He would turn some work around in a couple of hours if it was a simple score job as an example. He often had two presses running at once, was in the shop at 7:30 in the morning on the dime, and home for dinner promptly at 5 pm. He was a no nonsense instructor, and a no nonsense printer and he worked well into his 70s.

The first time we went out for lunch was in his brand new Cadillac, parked in a garage space in back of the shop. George explained that he always liked Cadillacs and bought a new one every two years, in cash.

I guess the moral is that you have to hustle the right type of business, price it right, and always deliver the goods.

Keelan, Ah Hem… clear throat,
” Letterpress is dead” hack, cough,spit….
Granted there are fewer shops than there were, but…
The Flexo industry is thriving, that’s why we have photopolymer. Just as in any business you have to have a “money cow” more than one is better. It takes some time to build a reputation, and if you offer a service that has little competition you can carve a living, esp. in a big city.
Aaron keep you head up, let go pesky customers,
print on.


I like you, just want to tell you, that what you say in your reply was what I am talking about.

When the photo typesetters came out to replace the Linotypes, everyone loved, many linotype operators including myself learned the new way. The new way was someone with typeface known and spacing would sit down write a list of codes for the keyboard operator to input and the paper tape went to another person that ran the tape of a photo setting machine that had loaded fonts on a negative and worked like a Monotype only in photosetting and photo paper for the camera department to making into negatives and plates for the press.

People made a living in printing using the old letterpress equipment many shop still used with the photo typesetting.

Than, the Apple Computer came out! And, people as your mother did, purchased a computer, a printer, computer programs, (and spend more than giving the work to a printer) and print shop large and small closed.

Printing has NOT died! Letterpress, Offset, high end digital printing is around, BUT you have a hard time making a living to support your family, because EVERYONE has a Apple computer on their desk doing what printers did to support their family.

As a print, I am still making the same as in did in 1990.

The cost of living has gone up. So, that why I say the Apple computer killed printing, (Really mean you can’t support a family anymore)

Yes, in 1993, printers loved the Apple Computer, they could offer more services to their customer, but, in 1995, the RICH people in the computer industry said, lets sell all the computer programs that we sell to the graphics industry to EVERYONE in the world. So, now, everyone has photoshop, InDesign etc in their office.

You keep blaming Apple, but the company that put print production on the desktop is really Adobe and their product is on the PC too.

My dad was a longtime International Typographers Union member. He was a Ludlow man in a union hot metal shop when the ITU finally went under and never saw a return on his union dues. At the time, many of the hot metal shops thought cold comp could never provide the quality of hot metal. My dad, many years later, mused how things would have gone if they had opened up the ITU to the early computer typesetters (a move he favored).

Lots of people support their families as printers. They find the right clients and do the right work for it to make money.

Blaming the tools and saying they “killed x” is silly. What falls away isn’t “x”, but the business models based on “x” that no longer provide enough value to warrant asking for the money they need to operate.

Cheap digital SLR cameras and high-quality ink-jet didn’t kill photography, it killed cheap film and shops that developed mass-market photos.