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Oak Root Press offers fine limited editions of poetry, manifestos, stories, and art using vintage printing presses.
Established in late 2007, the equipment for the studio was found in Michigan, Missouri, and Colorado.
The studio is located in a converted garage, and was opened in March 2008.
By the end of March I had printed five different projects.
Setting the type is slow and methodical.
Then after you adjust the press,
You gotta move fast!

John Upchurch at Fireproof Press


September 2008: My visit to printing museums and collections in Belgium - Wow!

The Studio

The space is small and it's evolving, but it serves its purpose well:

This picture was taken while I was still setting up shop. It's one-half of a two-car garage. See virtual tour here (a little movie). A small window is being put in on the east (right) wall. Though only 180 square feet, the space nevertheless is the headquarters for an entire book arts operation. Here's the story of setting up the shop, acquiring and moving all the presses.

The printer at work

Printing Presses and Equipment

These old printing presses are nice, solid, pieces of machinery. They are a type of "platen press" design that was perfected by the mid 1800s, but large scale production of these floor model flywheel presses didn't really begin until the 1880s. By the early 1890s the original patents expired and many companies started to manufacture presses using the time tested Gordon-Franklin design. I'm interested in the older vintage presses, and was lucky to locate two relatively rare presses, as well as a more common but hardy Chandler & Price Old Style design. My oldest press is the Old Style Gordon, made in Chicago by Schniedewend & Lee. It probably dates to the early 1890s, and has a print size of 7" x 11". This is referred to as the "chase" size, because the metal frame, or chase, that one locks the letters and wood cuts into defines the size that you can print:

This one came from Taylor, Michigan. It is complete except for the paper grippers. I've located three other Gordon Old Styles made by S & L, owned by other letterpress enthusiasts. They are all different from this press in several repects. My press has a straight and long throw-off arm, whereas the others have a shorter throw-off arm with a brace mounted in a bigger side bracket. My press has the original foot treadle whereas the others seem to have replacements installed, or none at all. It's a great little press, kind of a miniature Chandler & Price. It weighs about 750 pounds. When I get the rollers redone it may be the only Old Style Gordon still printing.

My second vintage press is a rare Kelsey Union press, sometimes labelled a "rotary" press. I only know of one other press like this in use, owned by John Henry of Cedar Creek Press in Mason City, Iowa. Mine came from a town near St Louis, Missouri. It allegedly was the printing press used in the Illinois State Capitol building in Springfield. There are no serial numbers on these Union presses, although it is stamped "Meridan, CT" and was manufactured there. Click on the image for a movie of the Kelsey Union Rotary press in action:

It probably dates to around 1900, but could range between 1890 and 1920. It's got a counterweight on the flywheel and has a nice smooth action and a unique design. It also has a 10" x 14" chase, which is large for a smaller sized floor press. It's complete, and only needs the rollers recovered. This press is pictured in the banner at the top of the page. Weighs about 750 pounds.

In early January of 2008, my friend Stevyn Prothero told me about a print shop in Denver going out business. I still hadn't acquired any of my presses yet, so went to check it out. The Ken Ticket Company is at 3921 Tennyson Street in northwest Denver, in my old neighborhood where I lived for seven years, 1998 - 2005. I met with the owner, Lloyd O'Neil and struck up a friendship. He had three Chandler and Price presses, all 10 x 15's, but two of them were fitted with Kluge paper feeders that I didn;t need or want. I was immediately attracted to the unfettered 10 x 15 Old Style:

It was motorized, the foot treadle lost, and bigger than I was hoping for. These 10 x 15 presses weigh about 1800 pounds. Nevertheless, the process began and soon I was troubleshooting a few problems it had, being guided largely by veteran letterpress guy Tom Parson. Tom generously gave me some spare parts and helped me replace the heavy rocker, solving one of the problems. With all this sweat equity, stetching over several weeks, Lloyd sold me the old press at a fair price. I also bought the necessities of my studio - ink, a cabinet, quoins, type, furniture, furniture cases, a hole driller, composing sticks, and a rouse slug cutter. Many other extras too. And, a vintage wooden imposing table with a metal stone that might date to the late 1800s:

Moving the huge C & P was not as painful or difficult as one expects it to be, based on the reports one finds online. You just have to think it through very carefully, come prepared, and rent a truck with a hydraulic hoist. Myself and my friend Stevyn moved it, and all the other stuff, from Denver to my home sixty miles away, in about six hours. Weeks before, I had jacked the press onto a custom measured and designed skid, so that a pallet jack fit perfectly. With the flywheel removed, the press went right out the backdoor of Lloyd's shop and onto the hydraulic lift of the truck. At home, we lowered it onto the driveway and pushed it with the pallet jack into the garage studio. It was in the studio awaiting its flywheel on March 5th; the flywheel & shaft, motor, feedboards & drawer, rollers, and ink disk were soon installed:

The flywheel and shaft are heavy - probably over a hundred pounds, and it took a few days to get it together. These Chandler & Price presses were built in Cleveland, Ohio. The Old Style designs, like this one, are distinguished by the curved spokes on the flywheels. They all have serial numbers that can be found on the upper left corner of the printing bed. This one is #12844, thus built in 1902. Lloyd told me it was in the Ken Ticket shop on 44th and Bryant when he worked there in the early 1950s. It was moved to Tennyson street when he bought the business in 1969 - and was there ever since, being used to print Broncos tickets among other things. It was retired about a year ago when one of the roller arms broke - a part that Tom Parson gave me a replacement for - thanks Tom!

I cleaned up my new 106-year-old press and was printing my first test pieces by March 14.

I will be moving into a great little studio/workshop space I'm renting in old town Ft Collins - moving in May 16. It will be called Acorn Anchor Book Arts Studio and will serve as an annex to Oak Root Press, where bookbinding, type foundry, printing, papermaking, and the productions of Stone Book Statuary will take place.

I have conceived Oak Root Press to largely be in service to producing high quality limited editions of a series of poems that I call Tryptagonals. I'll use hand-made paper and hand bind the limited edition volumes. A typical run might be 250 - 300 copies. I'll also produce limited editions of numbered poetry broadsides, to raise funds for good causes. On March 31, 2008, I produced my very first broadside, a selection of three tryptagonals in an edition of 80 copies on light stock paper in an 8.5" x 5.5" (half page) size. It was hand set in Caslon 12 point. See the Tryptagonals website for more information.

Letterpress Links

Firefly Press
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iv69kB_e9KY&feature=related

Hammerpress:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aYdWhT_krRY&feature=related

Boxcar Press

Briar Press

Great resource for mini-films on letterpress

Handcasting type at Stigbergets Stamp & Press, Stockholm, Sweden (See more on Richard Arlin)

Papermaking at Paperstudio.com

Tosa Washi - Japanese papermaking

Excellent! BBC Production, "The Machine That Made Us":

Part 1 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=91smRXrEPRs,
Part 2 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qM0FKWpNTUc,
Part 3 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=souzdLjgrzM,
Part 4 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pIur4eiOR38,
Part 5 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TgNCvgSICbc,
Part 6 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xWeMK-Q9NMQ

Projects

March 2008. Test printed a block cut Lloyd gave me. Adapted that into a happy birthday card for Marie, including type and five ornaments. Also printed a design with three ornaments that read "Tryptagonal Hexameter Sonnets." Then I did a short test run of one tryptagonal, hand set with some old 14 point font. All the signs were good, so I cleaned out a California job case and sorted my newly acquired Caslon 12 point. Then I was ready to make my first broadside.

March 31. The first offering. A limited one-time run of three tryptagonals in an edition of 80 copies on light stock paper in an 8.5" x 5.5" (half page) size. It was hand set in Caslon 12 point. Some are signed, all are dated and numbered. Several are on card stock, several have an inverted impression on the back. These quirks result in many of the copies being completely unique.

April 3, 2008. Working on a flyer for The Denver Zine Fest 2008 - coming along nicely. I've already set and locked the form.


Oak Root Press is a member of the
International Register of Private Press Names