REVIEW: Ladies of Letterpress

Front Cover of Ladies of Letterpress

I noticed that there was something a bit different about Ladies of Letterpress as soon as it arrived; it was wrapped in brown paper instead coming in the usual padded envelope. I didn't think too much of it, other than "ooh, brown paper packages tied up with string...", until I took the book out, and the word "wow" was uttered. The book is huge, too big for a large padded envelope, and it is pure, pristine and bold. I wouldn't even call it a coffee table book, because if someone dared to stick a cup of coffee anywhere near that beautiful white cover, I would be fixing them with the most aggressive steely glare. It is a thing of beauty put into this world to be hugged, stroked, cherished and then read, (and I haven't even touched on what is inside yet).

 

Inner poster from Ladies of Letterpress showing Red Rose Buds by Ari Press
Red Rose Buds by Ari Press


Ladies of Letterpress began as an online organisation set up by Kseniya Thomas and and Jessica. C. White when they noticed something of a revival of the craft occurring in the U.S. largely (but not exclusively) with women. They wanted to create a place not only where the art of letterpress could be celebrated and the legacy kept alive, but also a place where a community could be built so that printers could share their experiences and support each other. It should also be pointed out that although called Ladies of Letterpress it is open to men and women, as the name is more of a comment on the original letterpress industry being dominated by men.

 

Inner poster from Ladies of Letterpress showing Boston Love by Maiden Hand
Boston Love by Maiden Hand

The book has been created following voluntary submissions from the Ladies of Letterpress members which Kseniya and Jessica then curated. The community is a global one, but being based in the U.S. means that a majority of the printers featured come from America, however there is one printer from the U.K. and Canada, Switzerland, Italy, Australia and The Netherlands also appear. Contributors for the most part are female but there are some men, and interestingly a surprising number of husband and wife teams (I've since run the idea by my mister but sadly he doesn't appear to be as enthused by it all as me).

 

Inner poster from Ladies of Letterpress showing Whiskey Poster by Steel Petal Press
Whiskey Poster by Steel Petal Press

The book begins with a short interview with Kseniya and Jessica about how they began the organisation and then there is a very brief (mostly American) history of letterpress printing. There are then 86 featured letterpress printers/artists that make up the rest of the book. Each printer is given a full-page image and also a second page which shows a selection of smaller images of their work and a short description of who they are, how they came to be a letterpress printer, the machines they use and the type of work that they create. The names of the presses were initially a bit lost on me, and I wondered if it would help if more information on presses were available, but by the end of the book the names had become familiar, and it didn't take much to Google and look on You Tube to see the presses in action, which is much easier than just reading about them.

Inner poster from Ladies of Letterpress showing Brave Boys by Smokey Road Press
Brave Boys by Smokey Road Press

Probably the best (and perhaps the worst thing) about this book is that each page is perforated near the spine. As every other page is an image of a letterpress print, you are able to neatly pull them out and pop them on your wall. Free posters, genius! It is a really lovely idea and gives the book a whole other purpose, rather than it just gathering dust on a shelf, (yes we all intend to go back and re-read well-loved books, but how many of us actually get around to doing it?).

However, I, like many of you I'm sure, feel physical pain just at the thought of taking a book apart. Once it is done it's done and you can't put it back without copious amounts of unsightly sticky tape, so what do you do? Part of me wonders if this is not just some clever ruse to tempt book lovers into purchasing two copies, one for prints and one for keeping in pristine condition. I admit, I'm tempted by several prints which would look lovely on my walls, and therefore I am tempted to buy a second copy.

Inner poster from Ladies of Letterpress showing Prickly Pear by Lilco Design & Letterpress Studio
Prickly Pear by Lilco Design & Letterpress Studio

If I do decide that I can make my peace with removing pages from books, there are a number that appeal from what is quite a varied selection including type, animals, objects and patterns. My personal favourites include Red Rose Buds by Ari Press, the beautifully fun and vibrant Prickly Pear, by Lilco Designs and Letterpress Studio, The Boston Terrier by Maiden Hand and Brave Boys by Smokey Road Press which includes a wonderful old sea shanty. There is also a really lovely whiskey quote from Mark Twain by Steel Petal Press, and I love the idea behind the limited edition prints created by the Dead Feminists which each feature a quotation from a historical feminist.

Inner poster from Ladies of Letterpress showing Paper Chase Virginia Woolf by Dead Feminists
Paper Chase Virginia Woolf by Dead Feminists

Five of the printers included also have a more in depth interview which gives a more detailed account of how individuals became printers and how they work. I always love hearing about how artists work and what makes them tick, but too much in one book can feel repetitive and turn into a hard read; I thought this small number of interviews struck the perfect balance of interesting depth without ruining the flow and beauty of the book as a whole.

I may have mentioned that this is a truly beautiful book. It's the kind of book that is inspirational to those with an interest in the craft of letterpress, but can be appreciated by anyone with an interest in aesthetics. It is both informative and a book of visual art, and fully serves the purpose of communicating the message that letterpress is a craft that deserves to be kept alive. Buy a copy. No, buy two copies and festoon your walls with the pages from one of them; it will bring you joy. Then, maybe, hop onto one of those auction sites and see if you can pick yourself up a sad old letterpress printer in need of of love and restoration, before they disappear forever.


Ladies of Letterpress by Jessica C. White and Kseniya Thomas

Published by Ivy Press

RRP: £24.99

ISBN-10: 1782402292
ISBN-13: 978-1782402299

All images courtesy of Ivy Press