The Excelsior Press Blog

A somewhat frequent update of events at - and new links for the web site of -
the old Excelsior Press Museum Print shop in Frenchtown, NJ

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Alan Runfeldt, grumpy old letterpress printer,
reviewing a print pulled on the Vandercook

Photo by Andrew &/or Nara Lee - August, 2009

Alan Runfeldt, printer on the
                              Vandercook Proof Press

New Blog for 2016

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QUICK JUMPS --->   JANFEBMAR | APRMAYJUNE | JULYAUGSEPTOCTNOV | DEC

January 1, 2016

Well, another year begins.  Not so cold as last year, but still nothing happening in the old shop.

The barn is cold and dark and serves well for storage - but it sure is frustrating to go over there to get something and see all of those type cabinets filled with type - and galleys of forms to be distributed into the cases. The Heidelberg is here in the 'new shop' (garage) and there is an 8x12 C&P and a bunch of little Kelseys. But all of the type - and the Vandercook are still in the barn across the road - and will be until I can move just a few more shelves and cabinets out of the garage and into one of the sheds.

Problem is, the newest shed is filling up quickly and it's really time to buy another. But this new one will be a 12x16- the largest shed local building code allows me to simply lay on a bed of stone. Anything larger requires footings and a foundation - which adds quite a bit to the cost - and complication. I'll also be re-roofing, then enclosing the carport attached to the garage to serve as a 12x27' workshop. This will be a good place for the tools and work stations needed to do proper restorations of the little Kelsey presses. The new large compressor and sand-blast cabinet are already in there - but will have to be moved when we pour the cement slab later in the spring...

Meanwhile...


March 10, 2016 -
I've been invited to address a group of members of the Mahwah Museum with a presentation of - http://mahwahmuseum.org/event/theartoftheletterpresslecture/


UPDATE: The Presentation went quite well - especially thanks to the folks who attended.

Mr. Devries with his first press - a 1948
                  Kelsey StarMr. Devries
came to hear about letterpress printing today - and brought me a photo of himself and his first press - a 1948 7x11 Kelsey Star. He told me that he got this press when he was 13.

I told him that I was born in 1949 and that when *I* was 13, I was reading the Kelsey Catalog, dreaming of someday owning a Star... I finally got mine only a few years ago - when I was past 60 - and it is in the shop.

Mr. DeVries began with this little press and built *two* very successful printing business, one of which eventually employed 350 people! He retired at 50, then came back into the business with a new idea about printing on fabrics and founded Screen Trans - a banner printing company, which is active to this day.

Another attendee told me how, when she was a young girl, her father had 2 C&Ps in his basement and that she spent many hours standing in front of them, hand-feeding jobs back in the 60's...

And a third attendee came up to the press when I had finished speaking and after I had invited folks to come up and print my business card on the little Golding Official I had brought with me. He was happily printing away - hand feeding and pulling the lever as he told me that over his business career he had bought many presses, but that this was the first time he had actually printed on a hand-fed press. He was having a ball!

So, all in all, I think that it's fair to say that the evening went well and
- most important - the Mahwah Musem display that tells the story of the Ramsey Journal is one of the most professional museum displays on printing that I had ever seen. Kudos to the staff of the Mahwah Museum for doing a fine job. I am proud that some of the items in their display are on loan from the Excelsior Press Museum Print Shop...

April 5, 2016

Victor-in-a-wheelbarrow...Picked up yet another small press to restore. This one is one of those "Cook's Victor" 6x9" presses sold by Kelsey as their own - although the only thing "Kelsey" about this press is the "Kelsey" side-arm with the name "Kelsey" cast into it. My guess is that Bill Kelsey bought out Cook's stock of 6x9 Victor parts, had one piece cast - to set his name on the press which was actually developed and built by his competitor ( & former landlord) Mr. Cook. Later, when Kelsey ran out of Cook's parts, he added a side-arm to the standard Excelsior and called it their "Victor" press - although the only thing "Victor-like" in the Kelsey press was the side-lever action replacing the common front lever of the already-popular Excelsior.

In any case, it's a fine little press - better built and stronger than any Excelsior - and quite possibly the best press that Kelsey Co. ever sold... This one was used by a gentleman who lived in Oakton, VA. As his widow was cleaning out his workshop, this press came up. She tracked me down and asked if I would take it in for restoration - which we have done. We probably will not get to it for months - at least until the new workshop is set up, but in any case, this one has been added to the list of projects...

BTW - in answer to the question "How to easily move an 85-lb printing press from the shed to the driveway?"...

In a wheelbarrow! It works great.

April 19 -

Another shed in the yardGot the second shed in place. It's not the $3,000 12x16 I had planned on. This one was "free" and only cost me the $100 to have it delivered from a friend's house only 6 miles away. Not much of a shed - at only 8x10, but at that price.... it fit in nicely and, besides,  "every little bit helps..."

Spoke to local contractor Jack Hall about the barn plans. I'd like to build a 30x50 foot "old red barn" in the back of the yard - or possibly start with a 25x40 foot extension to the garage...

We'll see. Weather's cleared up; spring is here; plans are being made. Still gotta work out permitting, financing options and final plans. In the meantime, still planning on enclosing the car port to make a 10x25 workshop with a good strong floor and 220v power for the new sandblaster also left to me by my friend Victor and Bill's old Bridgeport Milling Machine. In any case, this little shed will be able handle the rest of the items that need to leave the garage and make room for type cabinets... Boy, I miss sorting and setting hand type....

May, 2016

Yolanda - March Paper at NSS-2015Had more fun with Yolanda of March Paper & Design

She's getting ready for her second year at the National Stationary Show in NYC later this month. Can't say much about this project - until it's announced at the show, it's a trade secret... But it certainly will get the attention of the attendees. 

But if last year's show is any indication
, it will be fun - for both of us. Last year, I was surprised and flattered to find out just how many of the groups showing letterpress work already knew of us here at the Excelsior Press Museum. More than one of the booths included folks I have known or helped or actually introduced to letterpress printing! Not bad for an old "has-been" printer who's found a new focus as a 'guru" to these creative young folks....

UPDATE:

Yolanda - March Paper "Louie
                    Award" entry - NSS-2016Yolanda and March Paper did quite well this year. Not only was she nominated for a "Louie" award (very presitigious to the Greeting Card Association crowd), (see photo -> of fabric-lined envelope and letterpress-printed notecard) but she also made some sales that will keep us all pretty busy printing and die-cutting fabric for a while....


I was also excited to meet with my dear old friend Amy of Alice-Louise Press Amy came to visit the shop many years ago, learned the basics of letterpress at the shop here and left with a 5x8 Kelsey - her first press and my first press sale...

Shortly after she got started with the 5x8, she outgrew it and got an 8x12 C&P. And shortly after that, she got her first Windmill....

Now, she has two Windmills, a helper AND a retail shop in Perrysburg, Ohio. ... and a booth at the National Stationary Show.

And, yes. She did recognize and remember me. it was a very heart-warming meeting... and I am very, very proud to have helped her get started...

May 4 -

Hatch posters at Logan's RoadhouseHad a pleasant surprise while stopping for dinner at Logan's Roadhouse, near Cabella's on I-78 in PA last night.

As we sat at the table, I noticed some posters on the wall... all over the walls - all over all of the walls of Logan's Roadhouse.

The style looked familiar, so I got up, wandered around and took a closer look. It turns out that all of these posters were NOT cheap digital imitations as seen on the walls of some trendy chain restaurants... These were ALL letterpress originals from Hatch Show Print - the poster people of Nashville, Tennessee. Apparently, all of Logan's 2-300 restaurants feature Hatch Show Print posters on their walls.

Of course, as much as I admire their longevity, I must admit that, as an old letterpress poster printer myself,  I am pretty harsh in my criticism of their typography and press work. Nonetheless, it was nice to see their work on the walls. I had a nice chat with the manager and our waitress - explaining that those posters on the wall were collectible original letterpress prints - not some cheap imitations of posters of bygone days. These were real letterpress posters. Nice to see.

Dinner, btw, was delicious as well, and the staff were very polite and attentive. We'll stop by there for steak and nachos again.


June -
Yolanda of March Paper & Design did well at the National Stationary Show in May. She made some sales - and one really big sale, so now we are deep into production of the cards, envelopes and other items. We are pushing to get my part of the done before we leave for Sweden on 6/16...



June 16, 2016

Sweden - home land of the Runfeldt familyI will be out of country for 2 weeks.

Big plans for this month! Realizing a life-long goal, my brothers, a cousin and our spouses are embarking for a 2-week adventure in the home of our forefathers... (the Runfeldt side..). We are going to Sweden!! and, in preparation for this adventure, Jag lara taler Svenska! (I learn to speak Swedish)... well, sort of... It's a struggle, but at least I will be able to greet my cousins in their own language. Conversations could get a bit tricky, but so it goes..

We will also visit the location of Sven Rask's print shop in Vaxjo (Sven Rask was my 6th great-grandfather) - and meet the current publishers of the newspaper he founded around 1800 - the Vaxjo Bladet. We will also be in Sweden to celebrate the 130th anniversary of the first time our name was registered in Sweden. When my great-grandfather, Klaus Emil Svenson decided that Sweden already had enough Svensons, he decided to add "Runfeldt" to his name... Klaus Emil Svenson Runfeldt. So began this branch of The Runfeldt Family. Acutally, my grandfather, Anders Teodor Fillipus Runfeldt, was the first of our line to be born as a "Runfeldt". That was in 1882. In 1900, he emigrated to the USA, met and married Dorotea Gistedt, had a son named Eric (who, btw, also became a printer - in Houston, TX)....  and so began our branch of the family

We will be celebrating Midsummer with our Swedish relatives and expect it to be a pretty darned neat experience. You can follow our adventures on the Runfeldt Facebook page.

On June 30, we return to Hunterdon County, NJ and I will begin my attempt to catch up with all projects I had to set aside during these past busy weeks of printing and preparation for this goal of a lifetime - a trip to Sweden to meet our cousins...

June 30, 2016 - WOW

Just got back from our trip to Sweden. Wow. What a time we had! Seeing places, meeting cousins, second-cousins, Dad's cousin (97-year-old Gösta Runfeldt).... visited a museum with artifacts of my 6th Great-Grandfather's printing office from the early 1800's. Visited another museum - a really neatHere Live
                Runfeldt - with flowers and children place. A working museum print shop (like mine) - only with a a wider range of equipment and a profesional staff of experienced printers - Grafiska Museet Gamla Linköping - more about that visit when I make up a page dedicated to the wonderful experience I had there...

Spent a week with our cousin Bose and his wife Marianne, with frequent visits by Goran, Karin & Johnny. Adventures every day. Visiting old castle and monastary ruins - & Fields with Rune Stones (Run feldt) and family graves and related historical places. The sign says "Here live Runfeldt with children and flowers"....


July 20 -

Jason, Alan, Adam Jason & Adam Koontz came by with all their equipment and shot some video of the shop and presses and hand typesetting. Neat day. Can't wait to see the edited version.....

July 30 -
Picked up more stuff from Doug Neice's basement print shop. Got the 8x12 C&P - in pieces... rescued some severely damaged type stands. They can be restored. Stumbled upon some typographic treasures - including a 24pt calendar font.... Dragged an old Nolan galley proof press out of the basement. Got it cleaned up real nice. Gonna make a frisket or at least a paper clamp for it. Haven't printed with it yet...


August 2 -
  • Picked up yet another press - a 4x6 Sigwalt Ideal No. 3... Sigwalt No. 3 - 4x6
                      Table top Platen Pressanyone need parts for this press? We can duplicate them using this one as a master.

  • Got my metal lathe set up in the new shop. It's working.

  • Got the Shopsmith (table saw, drill press and wood lathe)
    set up in the new shop. It's working.

  • Brought over the first of the type cabinets a few weeks ago. Getting ready to set some type....


August 29
Printing Impressions Magazine- Just stumbled upon a mention in an article about printing museums in a 2012 issue of Printing Impressions Magazine. I'd read this trade magazine for years, but never imagined that I'd be mentioned within it's pages.... But we were! The second museum in the article references The Excelsior Press Museum Print Shop. The reference is not flattering, but it is accurate. Yes. The shop was a mess... and it still is.

Back in 2012, we had just bought our home - directly across the road from the farm where the shop has been for the past 30 years. Now, the old barn is "for storage only" according to the new landlord, so in 2016, the shop is in a mess "because".. (this time...) I *am* moving the entire shop/collection to a new location.

Right now, "the new home" of the shop is just our large old, very sturdily built garage and some sheds, but plans are afoot to build a nice big old post-and-beam red barn with a gambrel (Dutch-style) roof. But that is a big job and things around here move slowly, so the exciting news is the new little shop in the rather large, 2-bay garage. I have type, presses, press parts and presses being restored. I am about to resume casting ink rollers and am working on some small press restorations again - finally!

Anyway. That's the update for now.. oh, one more thing. On Thursday, I am planning on traveling up to NY state with a 5x8 trailer behind my truck... to pick up Roberta's Vandercook SP-15 proof press. It hasn't been used in years - just sits in her living room/studio and she needs a new driveway more than she needs to keep this press. We have ordered new rollers for it and will set it up here in the shop - in the space previously reserved for our Model 4 - which is still across the road in the barn where it has been since 1986.

Once we've had a chance to run Roberta's SP-15 through its paces and give it a thorough inspection and any service it might need to get it running perfectly - like installing the new rollers we got from Ramco, we'll be posting it online for sale. If you're looking for a Vandercook Proof Press, check back in a few weeks or a month or so and see our pages and videos of this little gem in operation. This will be a "try before you buy" offer and anyone who expresses a serious interest is welcome to come to the shop and print something on this press before buying.

One more thing - in our Presses Available Listings we're adding a complete print shop in Rhode Island. 4 presses, a cutter, type, etc. Not sure how it will be sold yet - we may do an in-place auction with our friends at HighBidsWin.com

OK. Now it's time for me to get to work - on the metal lathe we finally brought over a few weeks ago. Gotta clean up some roller shaft ends for the 5x8 & 6x10 rollers I plan to cast tonight....


Sept 1
Busy Day. Finally, keeping a promise made a few years ago, I drove up to New York State to pick up Roberta's Vandercook SP-15 and bring it back here to the shop so that I could install the new rollers, "get to know it" a bit,  do some printing with it, then arrange to sell it for her.



Along with the press, she gave me a treasure trove of type, ornaments and other letterpress stuff she once found useful and or interesting, but felt would find a good home here at the Excelsior Press Museum Print Shop - and it certainly will.

Among the items she passed on to use was a box of various type specimen books, supplies catalogs, APA sample packages and an old copy of Fred Williams' "Type & Press" - a letterpress journal - the 1993 equivalent of a letterpress information web site. 

The entire issue is interesting, but then two particular things caught my attention. One was a advert for an 8x12 C&P for $100 - a press that these days is likely to be advertised for $1000-$1500 or more. Another was for a Ludlow slug casting set up - machine & mats... for $12,000, which could likely be found for $1,000 or less these days.

Yes these markets have changed quite bit... But, the most startling is the ad for a Vandercook SP-15 - with original receipt and all documents... for $300. No, not 3 thousand (that was more than ten years ago) - or 30 thousand (prices may not reach that range for another ten years), but simply three hundred dollars. That's what an SP-15 was considered worth in 1993... Boy, have times changed. Roberta's press will sell for $13,500-14,500... the result of the real impact of supply and demand on prices and values.

I got my Model 4 at auction in 1975 and paid about $450 as I recall. One of them recently sold for $15,000... there ain't too many of these old machines left, and they still do a great job. Even at these prices, it's a worthwhile investment.

And the last ad on this page - for the "Letterpress Resouce Handbook".... an 80 page hard-copy, printed book published by The Briar Press... ...which I am assuming is the same Briar Press the world's letterpress printers know as http://BriarPress.org....
Type & Press 1993
                        header
Type & Press 1993 Ads


Times change, our tools change... and so do we...



October, 2016 - Wow! What an exciting and busy month it has been!

First of all, I got Roberta's SP-15 set up in the shop and have been having a great time cleaning it, servicing it and generally getting to know it. It certainly is very simple - and apparently as *precise as the 1940's-era Model 4 I've had since 1975..-

*(Vandercook chose "SP" to stand for "Simple Precision" when they designed this press.)
Vandercook SP-15 Printing Press - for sale
I ordered some new parts from Fritz at NA Graphics and he checked the serial number for me. It turns out that this press was delivered from Vandercook to a printer on Long Island In January of 1965. That's where its life began. From there, it went to a printer in New Jersey, and then, about 20 years ago, when Roberta decided to explore the art of wood engraving and printing, she studied with famed wood engraver Jon De Pol and purchased this press to do her work.

The press sat in her living room/studio for the past twenty years, and when it wasn't being used, it was covered with the original Vandercook felt-lined press cover. (currently at the dry-cleaners) It certainly is a nice press to work on...

A little more cleaning, perhaps painting one or two of the parts, then re-assembly and installation of a new washup blade for the automatic wash-up system, some new paper guide clips, a new set of trip assembly springs and a new set of rollers and then this press will be ready for it's new home... 


Tuesday, October 4

Students from RVCC at Vandercook Proof PressGreat news! The Excelsior Press Museum Print Shop is now open to visitors and for teaching!

I finally have a variety of type and presses set up in the new location and am once again able to show visitors how Letterpress Printing is done. This past Tuesday, Vandy came from our local Raritan Valley Community College with five of her students of "The History of Communication".

I showed them how type is set by hand - and pointed out that until Mergenthaler developed the Linotype Machine, *all* books and newspapers were hand-set. Then, to show them how the Vandercook works, we all printed a few samples. In the photos, everyone is holding our favorite print - The Cowboy by Thomas Steffan, but we also set some type, reprinted the form that was set for the Mahwah Museum display, and even inserted a numbering machine into the form to show the students how consecutive number of forms is done... while the job is being printed...

Great day. Lots of fun sharing some more printing history with a young group who might never otherwise had a chance to not only see these old presses in action, but to actually print them selves on this venerable equipment...


October 6 -

Olga at the VandercookOlga came by the shop today to "see what letterpress printing is all about".... and she certainly got to see and do quite a bit.. We set some hand type and printed on the little Vandercook 099 table-top Galley Proof Press, then moved on to the larger full-sized Vandercook Model SP-15, and the, just before she had to leave, I locked up the form for my business card, and she got to print some herself on the treadle-operated 8x12 C&P. Although this photo does show her smiling, only a few moments before, I got to see that unique sparkle of excitement that usually only appears when a student makes their first print and sees something special come out of the press. Blank card stock is set into the paper guides, the press closes and voila! When  it opens, there is a freshly printed card sitting on the tympan. Yes, it is some sort of magic... ;)


October 18 - Just found out that Fiona Otway'svideo Kiss The Paper (filmed at Excelsior Press a few years ago) is no longer showing up on Vimeo, but the teaser can be seen on Distrify -  https://distrify.com/videos/3tPGoS Check it out.




December 24 - Christmas Eve


Christmas Gifts printed at Excelsior PressWell, having been so busy printing lately that I had not gotten out to do any Christmas shopping, and aware that our daughter Tina was very impressed with the notepad my friend Barry had printed and left here on display, I decided that Tina would like some notepads on that nice Ivory Cambric Linen we used for something else recently, and having seen how many letters my mother-in-law had been sending out with hand-written return addresses, and having wanted to use that Ludlow slug I had cast with my wife's name so long ago, I decided that this year's family Christmas gifts would be printed...

And then, wrapping... what to do? Make some boxes! Yup. I set a score rule into the 8x12, cut some chipboard for bottoms, some poster board for the tops, scored 4 sides, then slit the edges, folded them up and taped them solid. Tops were 1/8" larger than bottoms, so they fit just right when folded up. Making custom boxes to size is great fun!


December 31, 2016 - New Year's Eve

Wedding
                  Coasters printed at Excelsior PressWell, for the last entry of the year, here's something fun. My nephew Jarrod came to visit with his mother and while the sisters were out having fun doing their "sisters" thing, he hung out with me in the shop and we had fun printing....Nephew Jerrod printing Wedding
                Coasters at Excelsior Press

He has some friends being married in a few weeks and thought that some custom-made coasters would be a good wedding gift. We agree....

We shot a short video as well, which can be seen at our account on YouTube.

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