by David Yamaguchi, The North American Post
On November 12, the NAP received an email out of the blue:
“Hello. I am the Director and Founder of The Living Museum of Letterpress Printing, located in Anacortes, Washington. Back in 1990, our Museum was located at 2017 Second Avenue in Seattle. At that time, your organization contacted us, asking if we would be interested in some ‘outdated types and equipment.’ We said ‘Yes!’
“We still have ALL of it! We have ALWAYS treasured these items as something quite unique. We were considering a couple of options. (1) Wondering if you would be interested in taking receipt of any (or all) of these items. (2) Offering them to The Wing Luke Museum. There are about 100 drawers of type; a C&P [Chandler and Price] Hand Fed Platen Press (floor model); canceled checks; some notebooks (in Japanese); miscellaneous items.
Please let me know your thoughts. You can call me anytime… and/or write back by this email. Thank you for your time – Jeronimo Squires”
To set the NAP’s 1990 donation in historical and technological context, the Japanese section of the Rafu Shimpo, the Los Angeles Japanese community paper, similarly updated to computer layout in March 1992.
“Speed Replaces Tradition,” reads the headline in the Los Angeles Times. The Rafu typesetting foreman at the time, 64-year-old Satoru Ryono, described their Japanese type collection as consisting of “3,000 leaded characters, plus different sizes of each character, all of which must be delicately set by hand… a page of type takes at least three hours to prepare.”
After my reply to Jeronimo stating our interest, he amplified his earlier message and sent supporting photos (above).
“[The] NA Post Press is… 10″ x 15″ [10 x15 inch] Chandler & Price…. treadle (foot) power[ed]!
“The largest (and heaviest) piece is the printing press. It weighs about 1700 pounds and takes up a 5′ x 6′ [5 by 6 foot] square floor area. It is your original press, from 1902 and is really beautiful.”
“We have many cases of foundry type! There are cases of two sizes-large and medium. Also, there are some ‘forms’ with several other sizes (smaller) of type. The forms are actual metal pages from your newspaper showing your advertisers, social clubs, sports events, etc…
“They really complete the story of how the newspaper was put together back in the day. We have a number of support items that would add authenticity to any display you might consider. Let’s talk…
“I would be happy to help you and/or The Wing Luke interpret the collection… I do not read Japanese, but have 53 years’ experience with letterpress printing and newspapering as a linotypist at various shops for 40 of those years.
“Excited that you are taking the time to consider this and to help these treasures find their proper place…
“Yes, we also have English lead type. In fact, we have YOUR English lead type! As conservators we saw the cultural value in everything that belonged to The NA Post, so we saved it all. We have personal records from your offices… There is more to report, now that we know there is interest on your part.
“We love the fact that you are turning to your community for support. That was long our intention and dream!
“We can also supply you with just about EVERYTHING you will need to set up a working English/Japanese language print shop. Tools, inks, etc…
Jeronimo and Kay”
With the above basic information in hand, it falls on readers to decide how we might want to proceed. While we would want to do so in a timely manner, out of respect for the offer, there is no “pressing” rush.
In Jeronimo’s words, “We have waited nearly 30 years for this. No hurry.”
There are two logical venues to approach to begin discussing this project with: The Wing Luke, mentioned by Jeronimo, and the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Washington (JCCCW). At both locations, an easy, low-end target would be traditional fixed displays (“look but don’t touch”). For these, we would only need a few trays of the Japanese and English lead type and advertising frames. Jeronimo would be happy to keep the printing press if we cannot find a home for it.
However, all of us know that static museum displays are boring! They lack the capacity to spark fires in viewers’ minds, and thereby, to change lives. Accordingly, museums have been moving away from these toward interactive exhibits.
Accordingly, a stretch goal would be to accept the complete set of press and type, and then WE—as a community—begin building an active working group around it. Such a group might be analogous to other nonprofit letterpress groups (see below). The group could learn to use the press to print calendars, greeting cards, and the like. Some of these could be given to sponsoring organizations, to sell in their gift shops to defray operating costs.
Modest income generation might be expected because most of the work of printing involves setting up each new page. Once designed and proofed, it would take minimal additional effort for artists to make extra copies for host organization(s).
What would distinguish this press from other local presses is the availability of both the Japanese and English type. Thus, Japanese (and Chinese?) language students could help set them.
Moreover, the kanji character-set includes many historical kanji that are no longer in use. As an example, how many today can read the first headline character from the 1946 article above?
In any case, envisioning the formation of such a working Asian-trilingual letterpress group is not unreasonable. For these days, letterpress printing is something of a cult art-form, as people today feel nostalgic about old, mechanical technology. Thus, many enjoy playing LP records on turntables.
What remains impressive about letterpress-printed materials is that the lead type creates soft depressions in the paper. Accordingly, its printed products, on close examination, are three dimensional.
For the community printing-press vision to happen, a survey is in order. How many would be interested in using such materials, post-COVID-19, if they were housed in easily accessible community workspace? How many instructor-level people do we have, who could help get the ball rolling?
In any case, please let me know of your interests (firstname.lastname@example.org), as we begin approaching the Wing Luke and JCCCW to find out their views. The main question is whether we still have it in us—like the Issei of olde—to harness a ton of equipment to make art that will help present and future generations connect with their roots.
P.S. At this writing, three artists, two known by the Post staff, one by referral, have expressed their interest in using the printing equipment. One is a letterpress shop owner and teacher. A second has college letterpress experience.
That 1946 headline? It is “Nijuushichinen mae no Daihogyo“ [Great Labor Strike of 27 Years Ago]. Then, John L. Lewis walked with 615,000 coal miners from 21 states (WA, 6,000).
Newspapers made using the NAP printing press: