Wednesday, March 25, 2009


{My Grandpa at his Linotype machine in the 1980s.}

I think I've always had ink in my blood. My grandparents owned a small, family-run letterpress shop on Champa Street in downtown Denver for over 30 years. I remember spending long summer days at the shop, helping Grandpa set type and learning how run the machinery. He could hand-set a line of type from a drawer in seconds flat, and he taught me how to properly lock up a chase. I loved watching him zip out lines of type on the Linotype machine, and hearing the tap-tap-tap of the wooden mallet as he nudged each slug into place. I was mesmerized by Grandma slipping pieces of paper into the C&P floor press over and over, and loved sitting in her big wooden desk chair, pretending I was running the place, taking orders and chatting with the customers who dropped in each day.

One day, my cousin convinced me that the Linotype machine was just like a typewriter, and it wouldn't hurt to pretend we were office workers and type just a bit on it. It was off, so what could it hurt? I'm sure I knew that this was against the rules, but I did it anyway. Turns out that, even when the Linotype was off, the letter molds that make the lines of type still come down the little chute, piling up and waiting for the lead to be poured in. Boy, was Grandpa mad when he found them. I learned to never do that again!

My favorite place in the shop was the little room in the back where the paper was kept. I could spend hours fingering the stacks of paper in all sorts of colors, weights and sizes. My favorite papers were the label stocks and the carbonless NCR paper. Every now and then, my Grandpa would clean out the paper shelves, and send us home with a giant box full of scraps. I made my own little receipt books with the NCR paper, and coerced my little brother into playing store and library with me for hours on end, just so I could write out receipts. And remember those little teddy bear stickers you could buy in the 80s? The ones that came with their own little clothes and accessories, so you could put them on your spiral notebooks and dress them up? I used the sticker paper scraps to make my own. But I had way more accessories than what you could get at the stationery store. :)

The shop closed in the early nineties when my grandparents retired. Grandpa passed away in 2002, but every now and then I feel him nearby, watching over me as I grow my business as a printer in my own right. When the shop closed, letterpress was almost a dying art. I think he would be very surprised and quite pleased to see the resurgence of letterpress in recent years...


  1. i love this story. it seems that you really were destined to work with a letterpress, both through your lineage and your talent. thanks for sharing the photo of your grandfather!