Equipment in use at the Excelsior Press Museum
        Print Shop
Alan Runfeldt at his press in 2012

The Swedish Connection
Carrying on the family tradition

Anders Thetzel, d. 1798 - Alan Runfeldt b. 1949

Gottfried Runfeldt - in Africa, 1910

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Book Printed in Sweden - 1804
Apparently our family connection to printing (& to liberal outspokenness) runs deep. In 1813 our ancestor Sven Rask offended the government of Sweden by printing something which reflected "outspokenness and lack of subservience" - something "not done" in Swedish publishing at the time, but which, after his subsequent acquittal established a precedent for "Freedom of The Press" in Sweden.

This occurred at just about the same time such freedoms were being defined and defended in the new United States of America - and nearly 100 years before the first Runfeldts came to this country.

From brother Steve Runfeldt in US:
ABC Schoolbook published in 1804 by our Great Great Great Grandparents (Sven Rask and Beata Catherina Thetzel-Rask) and  Great Great Great Great Grandmother (Christina Catharina Hempel-Thetzell).  And, further below an example of "Kistabrev" likely printed by Sven or Beata Rask.   

Alan Runfeldt is
Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandson of Anders and Christina Thetzell.

This is Grandpop Runfeldt (Anders Filip Runfeldt)'s  Mother's Grandparents and Great Grandparents.

Book Printed in Sweden - 1804
Alan Runfeldt, b. USA 1949
Father: Andrew Theodore Runfeldt, b. USA 1919
Grandfather: Anders Filip Runfeldt, b. Sweden
Great Grandmother: Gustava Elionora Nilsson-Runfeldt
Great Great Grandmother: Eleonora Rask
Great Great Great Grandparents:  Sven Rask and Beata Catherina Thetzell
Great Great Great Great Grandparents: Anders Thetzell and Christina Catharina Hempel

Anders Thetzel was a printer.  He died in 1798.  In 1802 Sven Rask married his daughter, Catherina and became partner with his widow, Christina Catharina.  They published together for several years.  When Sven died, his widow, Catherina Thetzell Rask, continued the business until 1840.

They were famous for their kistabrev - loosely translated as decorative papers.

From  cousin Göran Runfeldt in Sweden translated from Swedish on Facebook, and passed on by brother Steve Runfeldt in USA.

Please note that this automated translation may leave something to be desired, but the story does come out nonetheless.

Nils-Arvid Bringéus little book, takes up the publisher widows and printers, especially family Thetzell-Rask, who published in the 1800s. it contains good facts and has fine illustrations of kistebrev and other pressures 'prints'(?).


In Växjö was book printer Sven Rask who in 1802 bought half of Gymnasieboktryckeriet (Schoolbook Printing) by book printer widow Christina Catharina Thetzell (previously Hempell).

By his marriage in 1803 to Christina Catharina's daughter Beata Christina, he became owner of the whole printing house. The printing company prints included various kinds of kistebrev (decorating papers) and announcements to Växjö diocese.

Convicted for "Outspokenness"

Rask started Wexiö Paper (Wexiö Blad) in 1810 and in this he published in 1813 an objectionable ad leading to a press process against him. Rask was sentenced in the lowest court to pay three risksdaler for his "outspokenness and lack of subservience". In the Court of Appeal, he was fined even more for "insulting written speech" in connection with the pleadings to the Court of Appeals. Rask then appealed to the king, but this was rejected completely.

Acquittal - "Freedom of The Press"

He was eventually acquitted from violation of press freedom, but the lengthy process that took two years cost him a good deal financially. The financial burden was certainly still felt by his widow, Beata Catherine when she took over the printing in 1819.

As wife Beata Catherine had after her husband's death five children between three and sixteen years to mother. The help she had in the print shop was only a student boy and the thirteen year old son Cicero. Later in 1819 she asked the Society of Book Printing (Boktryckeri-societeten) for help with the operation of the printing by asking that the student boy would be allowed to be taught for six years. Her situation was difficult:

(TKistabrev - from Swedenhis is her letter in old Swedish, quite hard to translate...)

"I was by him [husband's] death plunged the UTI, the most pitiable plight, surrounded by several children, who could not feed themselves, deep in debt. I not have the power to keep a journeyman, but must dare this company with the assistance of my 13-year-old son and 2: ne other boys at about the same age.

With so feeble and oöfvade worker in my book printing, I have certainly not been able to publish, some actual known publications, but I have chiefly had to confine myself within the prefect EEM grazing announcements, Vexio pin magazine and Vexio Weekly Sheets.

Her petition was granted, and by the help she got, she could again print kistebrev.  Since the deceased spouse's business name was well known for a long time the printing company was named Swen Rasks Widow (Swen Rasks Enka) from 1825. Beata Catharina continued to issue Wexiö Paper until 1828 and owned the printing house until 1840 when it was sold to A. Wikbom.

Andrew Theodore Runfeldt, (b. 1919 USA) learned letterpress printing as a shop subject in High School. His brother, our uncle Eric Runfeldt became a pressman for a large Houston, Texas printer after he moved to Texas ("to be a cowboy") after serving in WWII.

Alan Runfeldt began printing at age 12 (1962) when he received a Kelsey Excelsior 3x5 press and a peach basket filled with pied type (new fonts of ATF Goudy)...

By 2012, The Excelsior Press was established as a museum print shop, sharing the knowledge, skills and equipment of letterpress printing with a new generation of printers as the craft experienced a resurgence of popularity.

Our deepest thanks go to our brother Steve and our cousin Göran in Sweden for digging deep into our family's past and gathering the content that made this page possible.

And more!  Cousin Göran in Sweden came up with more news of another printer from the Runfeldt Family. Apparently, my great-uncle Gottfried - brother of my Grandfather Anders - was a printer for the Methodist Mission at Inhambane in East Africa. An announcement of his death reports that "He was a printer, and was at work at the mission press only a short time before his death" (click image below to see it full sized)

Gottfried Runfeldt, printer in East Africa

So. Sven Rask was a printer in Sweden, 1810, Gottfried Runfeldt in Africa in 1910, Eric Runfeldt in Houston in 1950, and Alan Runfeldt in New Jersey in 1960. Which other Runfeldts have been - or will be- printers?

Flag of SwedenUPDATE: July 1, 2016...

Well, we have just returned from our visit to Sweden to "Meet the Runfeldts" - and so we did. All my life, I had wanted to get back to Sweden and learn more of our family's history. Well, one more dream we have made come true. And, it was wonderful! We traveled well over 1000 km (in our rented Volvo station wagon) and visited many sites related to our family's history...

                  Lives Runfeldt - with children and flowersWe were hosted at "Lilehamra" - the family homestead just a few miles outside of the lovely town of Motala, by Marianne & Bose Runfeldt (Bo's father and my father were cousins) We spent quite a bit of time with them as well as their sons Goran and Johnny - and Johnny's daughter Agnes, their daughter Karin and her daughter Natalee and son Melwin.

The sign on their front door announces "Here live Runfeldt with children and flowers" - as they, indeed do. Lots of flowers - the largest rose bushes I Cathy
                Runfeldt in Swedenhave ever seen, and which my wife Cathy enjoyed as well... Marianne also keeps a nice little flock of chickens which gave us fresh eggs every morning...

TCousins Bose and Alan Runfeldthe photo to the right is of cousins Alan and Bose Runfeldt. Actually, it was our fathers who were regular cousins, but everyone who saw us together said that we looked more like brothers than we looked like out own brothers! We're holding a platter of freshly cooked Kraftor 'cray fish', although they're actually more like small lobsters. They grow - very large and tasty - in one of the largest pristine lakes in all of Europe - Lake Vattern in central Sweden. Since Bo retired from merchant sailing around the world, he's been fishing these tremendous cray fish out of Lake Vattern on a daily basis and supplies local restaurants and some wholesalers with this well-loved local delicacy.

And, and... we met more - many more - cousins... One of whom had just retired from his printing business.... (another printer in the family!)

Cousins Gosta and Andy RunfeldtWe also had the pleasure of attending the 97th birthday celebration of my father's cousin Gösta Runfeldt - the last of his (and my father's) generation of Runfeldts.

The photo to the left is of Gosta and my Uncle Andy (Dad's youngest brother) who got to meet last year via Skype, arranged by my cousins Diane in Maryland and Goran in Sweden. These two cousins had never met until Skype brought them together over the internet...

While visiting Gosta in his nice little house on a farm - surrounded by wheat fields in rural Sweden, he also taught me the *proper* way to pronounce Runfeldt - not as we do here in America, with a soft 'u' (as in 'run') and smooth tone, but with force and accent and a lot of strength, as in "RuuueeeennFELDT" with a complex u~>e vowel sound in the first syllable and a strong rising tone at the end.

Runfeldt was the name initially used by great-grandfather Klaus Emil Swenson as his pen name - referencing the history of "Fields of Rune Stones" as the source of the wisdom he shared in his writings. But when my grandfather Anders was born in 1882, he was the first to use this new family name and was christened Anders Teodor Fillipus Runfeldt. The rest, as they say, is history...

On our second day in Sweden, four of us drove down to Växjö (see "Wexjo" above) to meet with the current publisher of Växjö Bladet - a newspaper founded in 1807 by my 6th great-grandfather. The current publisher took us on a tour of the town, pointing out the former locations of the newspaper office. After that, we visited the local museum and saw an entire display dedicated to my ancestor, Sven Rask and the newspaper and book printery.

Stanhope Press circa 1820 - as used by Sven RaskStanhope Press circa 1820 - as used by Sven RaskMost interesting was the 1820's Stanhope Printing Press - a press designed by The Earl of Stanhope in England, but with an "open source" patent which allowed it to be made in Sweden. The press on display is similar to the one used by my family so long ago. But also in the collection was the original wood engraving of one of the Kristabrev they printed... This wood engraving was hand carved by my 6th great-grandmother, Beata Catherine Thetzel in the early 1800's.

And I touched it - an wood engraving carved 200 years ago by my ancestor. What a thrill!

We were also met in Vaxjo by yet another cousin - a somewhat distant cousin, but also a descendant of Sven Rask. He had written a book about the family and included a reference to me and The Excelsior Press Museum Print shop - with a photo as well! Now I have to learn to read more Swedish so that I can see just what he said about me... ;)

to be continued....

last updated  7/28/2012 3/24/2014  8/1/2016
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