Hicks Brothers

Hicks Brothers, located in San Jose, California, has for many years been the go to source place to look for used printing equipment or to sell equipment no longer needed. Although primarily a Bay Area concern, they go far beyond to service printers.

I first was introduced to them when their warehouse was located on 4th Street in San Francisco. Eric Holub took me there and said I should meet them. We entered through the alley, and in those days there was still a railroad spur running along the alley, but at their back door was a dumpster with the ink fountain from a Heidelberg cylinder sticking out of it. At that time, they were bringing those cylinders up from Mexico and converting the printers to die cutters. Their warehouse was full of various letterpresses, offset presses, paper cutters, plate makers, Vandercooks, engraving presses, and all the detritus that goes with that stuff. And they lived in San Jose, 50 miles away, and commuted to work by train.

From the city, they moved down to Fremont off Warm Springs Blvd., not far from my sister in law. After several years, they moved again to the present location in San Jose.. Then Walter, the younger of the two brothers, retired, mainly with health issues, and brother Norman continues, still dealing with printing things. Walter moved to Colorado near Denver where he still lives.

I was surprised to receive a phone call from Walter last week and then have the pleasure of a visit from him yesterday. He had never been in this part of the state. He was quite taken with the beauty of our mountains. It was non-stop talking for almost four hours about things that have happened, printing, and people we know. Walter still helps his brother out, like moving a Hacker #5 proof press from Berkeley to its new owner in Montana. Us old geezers should be sipping Pina Coladas, watching the youngsters play on the beach in some sunny tropical spot but the lure of letterpress and printing won’t let go of us.

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Hello, my shop is in Ontario Canada. By chance would you know any dealers back east who could be interested in type and cases? I have over 125 all with type in them. Any info appreciated. Thanks Bob 705-489-2036.

The last Hicks press sale I attended was at Dolores Press, a block from Mission Dolores in SF. Here’s a photo of Walt Hicks standing in the composing room there. I got a stack of ’70s ITU newsletters and a water-cooled ingot mold, and a buddy took the nearest steel imposing table for welding work.
The Hicks brothers were delighted to find the walls insulated with old show cards and boxing posters that the press had printed in its long history. When the owner retired, the shop went to his pastor, the eccentric televangelist Rev Gene Scott, and it printed Scott’s books by offset until his death in 2005. Scott’s widow closed the SF press but still publishes under the Dolores Press imprint.
The first Hicks location I remember was in The Print Center on 3rd Street, a former MJB coffee plant repurposed for the printing trade. They had a massive Vandercook RO4 4-color rotary offset proof press for sale then; they also had their own finishing business, After Offset, where they did foiling, embossing and die-cutting.

image: HicksAtDolores.jpg


Back in the 80’s I was in the market for a 13 x 18 windmill and met with Norman at his shop in SF. He was die cutting on a Kluge the whole time we were talking. Very busy guy. He was behind on work and couldn’t stop. Anyway, he only knew of a couple windmills for sale up in Marin County.
It’s funny that they have a shop on 2nd street San Jose, next door from where my Dad had his shop back in the 50’s.
Brian and Ralph printers.
It’s also funny that I have a Pina Colada in my hand.eheh

double post

Dennis, you never told me you lived in San Jose, I lived in San Mateo, what school did you graduate from….what year. How’s Texas???? Bud

It’s interesting how an area like San Jose and San Francisco takes hold of you. My father retired from the Army to Palo Alto, located between those two cities, to work on his doctorate in engineering at Stanford. The area was rich in printing, and as a teenager, I jumped right in. Letterpress was in its death throes by the late 1950s, but many plants still maintained a semblance of a letterpress department. Long before someone named it as Silicon Valley, the Bay Area was a vibrant area. My choice for college was in far away Pittsburgh at what is now Carnegie Mellon. I managed to be in the last class of Printing Management students but my first job was for an aerospace firm, at what is now Lockheed Martin back in the Bay Area, but working on technical manuals including several that we had set on Monotypes in San Jose. The folks at the Monotype firm all had to have Secret security clearances to work on the hot metal typesetting. We had a pool of about 30 typists who did all the other manuals for the Polaris missile submarine fleet.

My ambitions changed, and after a several year stay at Carlisle Co., printers, in San Francisco, who had a great letterpress operation, I headed for the mountains of Colorado. But I still have strong ties to that area. Jack Stauffacher was one of my instructors in college and after that short lived career, he returned to Palo Alto where he worked for the Stanford University Press. He was using my C&P press to print his Christmas cards while I was off in Germany playing Army.

This all sets the stage for people like the Hicks Brothers who are part of the ever changing printing scene in the Bay Area. I haven’t lived in that area for over 50 years but it is still near and dear to my heart.

I loved reading your story Fritz. Thank you for taking the time to share it.