Last Sunday afternoon, the small, quiet and unnoticed printing press in the basement of the Depot Museum in Wilson Brewer Park was loaded onto a trailer and shipped to its new home in rural Springville, Iowa. New owners, Emily Eldred and Shane Scovill, hope to restore the press, which has not been used for at least 30 years, to working order.
Eldred has been accepted into the University of Iowa’s Center For The Book master’s program. Her studies, which begin this fall and culminate in a three-year degree, include courses in what she calls “the traditional arts of the book”, papermaking and bookbinding, in addition to typesetting and printing itself.
She comes to the elite program, which admits only about six new students each year, with a lifelong love of books.
The press will allow him to practice composition and printing techniques, and will support his course work.
She attended Mount Vernon High School, one of the few in Iowa to incorporate book arts into its curriculum, and began binding books at age 13. Her mother is a library director at the Springville Memorial Library.
After moving from the old Illinois Central Depot to Wilson Brewer Park and opening a small gift shop in the former Railway Express office, members of the Boone River Area Art Guild, which had its headquarters in the basement of the depot, hoped to make limited-edition press posters as a source of income. That doesn’t seem to have happened, and the press has been languishing in the basement of the depot ever since.
Until recently, most historians believed that movable-type printing, typography, was invented by Johannes Gutenberg of Mainz, Germany, around 1440. New evidence, however, suggests that an unknown printer in China used the same principles 400 years earlier.
Whether letterpress printing is 600 or 1,000 years old, it has been obsolete for most commercial printing since the early 1980s, replaced by computer typesetting and desktop publishing.
Successful letterpress printing requires skilled typesetters and press operators, and it has seen a resurgence among young printers over the past 35 or so years. These people, who keep the art of typography alive, typically print letterheads, envelopes, posters, and wedding invitations in a small business.