In this digital age, everything is "virtual," almost existing, always just on the verge of being real, here-but-not-quite-here. They are able to get here, I suppose, but there is always some sort of breach, an alienation, an other-ness, a there-ness rather than a here-ness. With letterpress, words are here, already arrived and always present, leaving no doubt that they exist. You see them on the page, gripping the paper, owning it. These are imprints that cannot and should not be taken lightly. By their looks alone, they are inviolate.
Here are some of my favorite lines from the feature:
"You are dealing with physical stuff. Letters are things, not pictures of things, and when you assemble metal type you are obliged to acknowledge -- accept -- that."
"Engineers of that day thought in organic metaphors. You see the jaws and you see the knees and the elbows. There is a human-ness to these mechanical devices."
"Real production press men could be doing this in 2,000 impressions an hour. But we've never been in that much of a hurry."
"The nicest thing that anyone has ever said about my work is it's always so suitable to the purpose. Yes, make it attractive, but make it be what the text needs it to be."
"The old guys got it remarkably right. There was an intuitive understanding of what constituted readable text. And so you can be at home with letterpress."
"It will die eventually, because people will no longer remember how to do it... It's okay; I'm only responsible for my watch. I'm thankful of the day that I get to do this."
And then, after a while, we may have yet another beautiful thing lost to time.
Post Script: I have just received a note from John Kristensen, his reply to my email informing him about this blog entry. Mr. Kristensen says:
"Thank you for your note about putting the Chuck Kraemer video on Firefly Press into your blog. I'm glad you enjoyed it; we certainly enjoyed making it better than six years ago now. (One of the nice things about letterpress is that the technology stands still for you.) Chuck Kraemer did a whole series of such videos for Boston's WGBH Public Television station, and our episode won for him an Edward R. Murrow Award and an Emmy Award. We still get fan mail from places like Karachi and Leipzig."
With appreciation and recognition like that, we in the digital age just might be able to hold on to the letterpress yet.