Interview: Letterpress Artisan Bethany Plath

Letterpress Trunk Show

Next week, July 23rd–27th, from 10am–4pm, Bethany Plath will be on site, firing up a vintage Vandercook SP-15 in our Bespoke store, and printing custom letterpress note cards and calling cards. 

To get ready for the event, we emailed Ms. Plath a few questions to get the basics down. [ED: We were going to custom letterpress the questions on a notecard, but we didn’t know how to work the machine.]

MGB: What is the basic letterpress process?

Bethany Plath: Letterpress is the process in which a reversed, raised surface is placed on the bed of the press, inked and then pressed into a sheet of paper. It is the oldest printing process and was once how people printed their books, their pamphlets and their newspapers.

How did you become interested in Letterpress?

I am a graphic designer by profession and have always been excited about the tactile experience of paper. While working at a high-end stationer in NYC I met a letterpress printer of books. After paging through one of his handcrafted books I was hooked.

What can you tell us about the Vandercook machine itself?

In the 20th century, the Vandercook & Sons company was the first to develop machines capable of making high-quality printing proofs. The model I print on, the SP-15 [See pics below], was manufactured in the 1960s and occupied the very narrow time period bridging letterpress printing and photo offset lithography. When offset lithography became the leading commercial printing method, Vandercook presses were put out to pasture. Over time, the presses began to be adopted by artists and hobbyists for fine press printing and book arts.

It has a New York address on it, but where did you get it from?

I was fortunate to find mine in great working condition in Delaware basement. It had been used in a small printing company before being decommissioned. I loaded it onto a U-haul and drove it home myself.

To play the devil’s advocate for a moment, why should I sent a letterpressed notecard instead of an email?

Sending a handwritten note on a lettepressed card shows that you value quality and craftsmanship and more importantly, it tells the recipient you value them enough to communicate in a genuine and thoughtful way.

What are the choices I have when creating my own bespoke letterpress?

A broad range of ink colors, fonts and designs are available to represent your unique and personal style. I walk my clients through the design process and help them make the choices that suit them best.

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David is Wingtip's storyteller. In addition to editing the Modern Gentleman's Blog, he has written for Wax Poetics, The Source, SF Weekly, and the East Bay Express, and others. His inspirations include Rumble Fish, Paul's Boutique, and Balzac. He studied English at the City University of New York at Hunter College and journalism at the University of Southern California. He lives in Berzerkeley with his wife and daughter.

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