- THE STORY OF SP&B -
Part of what drew me to letterpress printing was its rich and fascinating history - both within my own family, and on a larger scale. I would be remiss if I didn’t take some time to include it here for those who are inclined to know more.
While the art of letterpress has maintained a strong foothold in the stationery world, its impact reaches far into the past. Prior to our era of Instagram-able wedding invitations and Pinterest-perfect stationery was a more utilitarian world where the letterpress was the king of printed media. By refurbishing and continuing to use my press, I’m contributing to a long lineage of printers whose impressions have (quite literally) been left on the world today.
The story of Shuttle Press & Bindery starts long before I was digging through lead type and sewing text-blocks. In fact, it’s a story that began long before I was born - with The Kelsey Company of Meriden, Connecticut. Established in 1872, The Kelsey Company was a leader in New England’s letterpress printing industry - producing “The Excelsior” line of tabletop letterpresses for roughly 100 years (1875+/- through 1980+), and finally closing their doors for good in 1994.
Approximately thirty miles southeast of The Kelsey Company lies the blue-collar city of Torrington, Connecticut. This “mill town” was once the home of my great grandparents, Thomas and Imogene Johnson. I was very fortunate to have known each of them during my childhood - and feel very privileged
to have made pleasant memories with them both. While the exact story of how Great Grandpa Tom acquired the press is lost within my family’s lore, it’s reasonable to say that given the proximity of The Kelsey Company, and the model year of the press, he likely purchased it directly.
The Kelsey Company of Meriden, Connecticut
My press, "Imogene" - fully restored.
Now, I think it’s safe to assume that most people know artistic talents can run in a family. I did not expect, however, that a passion for something as specific as letterpress was able to be passed down through bloodlines.
I fell in love with bookbinding and letterpress printing during my senior year of college; unbeknownst to the fact that my great grandfather had also been enamored with the craft. You can imagine my grandmother’s surprise when I disclosed my interest to her - and my absolute delight upon learning that my great grandfather’s press was stowed away in her basement!
I will never forget the moment I was introduced to that dusty, cobweb-strewn press that had been lying dormant for so many years. In spite of all that she had been through (having been moved from Connecticut, to Maine, and back to Connecticut again - as well as surviving the Torrington flood of 1955) she was in remarkably good shape. Restoration of the press was an exciting and sentimental project, and I was lucky to find that she still had all of her parts and pieces. The biggest investment I made during the process was having her rollers re-made, as they had deteriorated quite badly over time. I decided to name the press “Imogene” in my great-grandmother’s honor.
As with many pre-internet companies, researching The Kelsey Company doesn’t yield very much in the way of tangible results online. That said, I have been fortunate enough to have stumbled upon some resources and materials that enabled me to learn a bit more about my press. For anyone looking to learn more about this press (or letterpress printing in general), I would highly advise that you check out the Excelsior Press Museum website.
I am so proud to keep the tradition of letterpress alive, and humbled by my luck that I have been given the opportunity to contribute to its incredible history - both within my family, and in the letterpress community at large. I hope that if you buy one of my products, you’ll be proud too - knowing that you’re supporting an artist, and owning a little piece of history.
Imogene is a tabletop “portable” press from The Excelsior model line. She’s a 6x10 size, (the dimensions that roughly equate to the size impressions she can produce) and weighs in at a hefty 97lbs. (hence her “portability”). Her ink table rotates in a clockwise direction. Based on my research, and some public domain images I found online - this press was manufactured and sold between 1946 and 1949. If my great grandfather did purchase her from The Kelsey Company directly, it’s likely that he paid a sum of $88.62 for her (or, $164.41 if he opted for an “outfit” deal that included the press, furniture, a font, some ink, type cases, and an assortment of other supplies).
The 6x10 "Outfit No. 3D" from the Kelsey Printer's Supply Book.
An image of the 6x10 Excelsior Press as seen in the Kelsey Printers' Supply Book.
My grandparents (left), Great Grandma Imogene (center),
Great Grandpa Tom (right) and baby me!
Imogene and I - taking on the world one impression at a time!