There is no one as passionate about letterpress printing as Ryan Cordell. It is justifiable as well! Letterpress printing was first started in the 15th century. It made use of raised letters and metallic images to engrave the words and designs on the paper. The printing technology has undergone a huge lot of reformations. Replaced by modern commercial printing, letterpress printing has not lost its appeal.
Cordell sees this fascinating craft as a fun lesson or today’s generation. Cordell is an associate professor of English at Northeastern University. He teaches classes on the history of books and technology. He is also the director of the Northeastern’s letterpress studio. It is the place where the students, faculty, and others can learn and create their own world. The studio’s purpose is to teach the history of print technologies. It also delves into the relevance of this ancient and beautiful printing style in today’s world.
“Experiential history is valuable for students to make the past come alive,” says Cordell. “This exposes them to the human realities of the past that you don’t always get reading literary anthologies.”
The process of such type of printing is quite extensive; one has to be, therefore, careful about every step one takes. While printing Whitman’s poem, he first stacks the pieces of type on the composing stick. He then places leading, which are thin metal strips for creating gaps between the text. As the lines get done with, Cordell takes them into a galley. It is a metal tray, which is a workplace for assembling the required pieces. As soon as all are in the galley, he takes them into a chase (a steel frame). The type, leading and the furniture (wooden blocks) are into the galley. When done, they are lead to the printing press, ready for the result.
Cordell appealed to the Museum of Printing in Haverhill, for a large sum of equipment to open this studio. A printing press, a proofing press, dozens of fonts and wooden storage cabinets. It was enough to transform the earlier storage closet of the English department. The studio took its place in the world this year. And what’s more, it holds the knowledge of how the printing technology has transformed over the decades.
“There’s a real hunger for analog technologies,” he claims. “It’s not that letterpress is better than the inkjet printer. We’re finding where these things fit if you wanted to print something”.