Prop cards: their purpose and format

Adapted from All About Prop Cards
(1982) by J. Ben Lieberman

The term “prop” is short for “proprietor,” stressing the individuality of the private press owner and operator, exercising freedom of the press. The prop’s card, or prop card, is akin to a calling card: printed on a letterpress, it has a standard form and bears a few essential pieces of information as descibed below.

Prop card basics

1. Last name, first name
2. Press name
3. Mailing address
4. Purpose and/or equipment

The prop card is used primarily, or ostensibly, for an address file. Hence, the prop card traditionally has the prop’s last name first, in the upper left corner of a standard 3x5 inch card, using reasonably stiff stock printed horizontally. The full name of the press and mailing address follow. Prop cards may also be double-sized, i.e., a 5x6 card folded to create a double 3x5 card, with the prop’s name at the top left on the front side, just below the fold.

If a press has more than one prop, all names should appear, their order being up to those concerned, with the first one still starting with the last name first.

Additional information

Prop cards may contain whatever other information the prop wishes to include, such as a telephone number, email address, web site address, pressmark, or association membership. Some props like to list the kinds of equipment they have. Others share a bit of history, or a statement about the purpose of the press.

Some cards are whimsical, some are decorative, and some are genuine printing craft masterpieces in miniature. Less than perfect printing is not spurned, especially from beginning props. Obviously everyone starts shakily, and later prop cards will show the course of improvement—since all props do the best they can with their prop cards as their most widespread showpiece, and usually do several different cards over the years.

Below are a few examples of prop cards, displayed with permission of the props.





Other uses

The prop card has other important uses in the private press field: it serves as the announcement of a new press, or a new press name; as a change-of-address card; as an exchange with other props, often as the opening for an invitation to exchange correspondence on matters of mutual interest and exchange of their printed pieces—and more fundamentally as acknowledgment and notice that the prop is part of the growing private press community. Generally, prop cards are sent to other props, libraries, and museums, and friends and relatives.