From This Place Words May
Not To Perish On Waves Of Sound
Not To Vary With The Writer’s Hand
But Fixed In Time
Having Been Verified In Proof Friend,
You Stand On Hallowed Ground
This is a Printing Office
These words were designed and printed in 1932 by Beatrice Ward, who made a name for herself in the then-predominantly male world of typography.
I love a place where the machines make the most interesting sounds. I can watch something being made. I can reach down and touch every word on the most magnificent paper canvas — each sheet slightly different than the next.
South Pasadena has its own printing office with skills that hearken back to the days of Franklin, Gutenberg and back a thousand years ago to China and Korea.
Annika Buxman is the practitioner of that craft in her shop, De Milo Design Studio & Letterpress, located at 1401 Fremont Ave., suite 103.
Hers is a world of marbleized papers, ink cans and two presses that weigh more than one and two tons each. Buxman spends hours setting up a job which may take a day to print. I watched her set up a page for printing and it took an artisan to move the paper holders into just the right spot.
It is a far cry from scanning your own copies.
You can feel the words on letterpress printing as each letter sinks into the paper. The papers can come in a variety from white to marbleized hot pink.
And oh, those printers.
The one-ton press is called a Franklin-Gordon and hers dates back to the 1870s. It is a pedal-run machine which can turn out 500 prints per hour. Buxman describes it as being “nearly silent and meditative.”
“It doesn’t require electricity and once the power went out while I was printing. I kept on printing and finished the job before sundown,” she said.
She sure can feel her work. The treadle on the Franklin-Gordon press resulted in a very strong right leg. So much so, that a gym trainer she once consulted said: “You must have back problems.” When asked how he knew, the trainer replied: “Because your right leg is so much stronger than your left leg.”
Since then, Buxman has tried to alternate legs when pumping the press.
The other press in the front of the business is called a Heidelberg Windmill and operates with what Buxman describes as a loud “swoosh-clunk, swoosh-clunk.” Even the sound is old-fashioned. It can print up to 600 copies an hour.
“It’s not relaxing to run that press,” she said. “If I don’t pay attention every second, it will wreck $100 worth of fancy paper in no time.”
In the back, there is a cylinder press called a Vandercook, which Buxman said has a dragging “click” sound and is her favorite for ease of set up, and great ink coverage on a large print area. It is slow, however, getting only about 200 prints in an hour.
Letterpress printing is a raised surface with ink printed into paper. The first such systems were invented in China and Korea more than a thousand years ago. Johann Gutenberg brought printing to Europe in the mid-1400s, with his version of movable type and a screw-type press, which was used to print his Gutenberg Bible in the 1450s.
Ink on paper is everywhere these days — except it is often digitized. But there is still a demand for letterpress printing for such things as posters, Christmas cards, calling cards and wedding invitations.
Doing this kind of work isn’t just a matter of copying something onto fancy paper. One invitation job of 100-200 invitations, envelopes, RSVPs and envelopes is a good day’s work, plus there are 2-4 weeks of design and pre-press preparation for that one day of printing.
And then there have been the occasional unusual requests, like printing the shoelaces of a baseball team or coming up with a plate for the guy who wanted to ink his shoulder for a temporary tattoo.
“I made the sexy image plate and gave him some press ink,” Buxman added. “Hope it worked out for the guy.”
Buxman got interested in letterpress printing while in her last year of attending ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena. She chose the institution’s Archetype Press as an elective course and so began her journey.
“What started out as a hobby has turned into a career,” she said. “I like the physical activity. I like the tactile feeling of all the kinds of the handmade paper and I’m very mechanically minded.
“I started doing this 22 years ago and I figured that I’d stop when people stopped calling,” Buxman added, “but they haven’t stopped calling yet.”
Buxman noted that the Los Angeles area is kind of a center for letterpress knowledge between ArtCenter, the Armory Center for the Arts and the International Printing Museum in Carson, which attracts printers from around the world every year.
Her shop even has a letterpress lab, where novices and advance students can use the small printer in the backroom to learn and complete a range of small to medium projects. Flat day rates are available for printing and one hour of instruction.
Wedding invitations and business cards are part of her business, but at the start of the pandemic, there wasn’t a lot of printing done for more than a month. It’s even been hard to justify printing new copies of favorite poems and verses that she puts in a “Poet’s Corner” outside her business for people to take for free.
So Buxman shifted to emphasizing the sale of fair-trade marbleized paper, which is designed to create opportunities for disadvantaged producers, ensure good working conditions and paying for goods “up front” so crafts people are paid immediately.
You can see and feel samples of the paper and no sheet is exactly like another. People use them for everything from invitations to lining dresser drawers. Colors vary from dusty pink marble to cream and gold marble paper sheets.
What really annoys her is when today’s world comes tapping at her window or knocking at her door.
“People see the word ‘printing’ and they think I’m a Quikie Print,” Buxman said. “I have to tell them to go across the street or around the corner.”
Editor’s Note: You can read about the papers, printing opportunities including wedding invitations and additional information on the printing lab at Buxman’s website, demilodesign.com, or by calling De Milo Design & Letterpress at (626) 403-0317.