If you talk to people and tell them that you own a printing press…well, you get a funny look. It takes a few minutes of explanation and processing for most to understand exactly what it is. And then come the jokes, “Wouldn’t just be easier to hit print on your computer?” “I have a boat that could use a new anchor…” the list could go on. And, yes, they are all that bad.
Eventually, though, most people find it interesting…and unique. I choose to believe they mean ‘unique’ in a good way and not that ‘I don’t know how to respond and this is really strange’ way.
According to Merriam-Webster.com, unique can be defined as, “being the only one; being without a like or equal; unusual” (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/unique).
Here’s the thing, the press I have, the Chandler and Price platen press, was one of the work horses of printing in the United States. They were everywhere…I mean everywhere! Every small town had at least one…every large city had dozens…hundreds even. Platen printing presses were the norm…the were not “without like or equal” and certainly were not “unusual.”
I have a friend at church, a bit older than I am, who took classes in High school on running printing presses and composing type! He wasn’t alone. There are even video’s—or should I say movies—for instruction (including that great school-video voice that puts you to sleep). Dolce Press posted this one and a few other gems.
So how did this press become unique and unusual?
I guess it’s pretty obvious: Technology…first offset printing and then digital.
I find this movement—the change from common to unique—fascinating. It makes sense in so many respects. Technological advances allow for faster, cheaper, and more consistent work. As machines become outdated, they can be destroyed, recycled, or stored. This, in turn, over time makes them harder to find and unique. It’s the march of progress and seems inevitable…
The question always remains…was it a good move? Did we gain something or lose something? In this case, is there a value to printing on an old platen press that has been lost through more modern forms of printing? I think arguments can be made on both sides…either way, I’m left with a press that is unique. Perhaps that is what interests me…or I just like the sound of it clinks and clanks as it opens and closes…and the smell of the ink…and the feel of the paper…