|A Kelsey Press|
Welcome to Monday Methods! Today we’re going to be exploring the Kelsey Press, a type of hand press that is used for small-scale printing projects. The Kelsey Company produced hand presses from the 1870s through the 1980s, and for some letterpress artists throughout the years, the Kelsey is the first press you learn on: it’s inexpensive, perfect for single projects (such as a card), and simple to use!
A basic use of the Kelsey press requires only a few small steps to begin printing. First, type is set in a composing stick, letter by letter, line by line, and spaced out so that you have a justified block of type. This block of type is called a form. The form is transferred to the chase. The chase keeps the text, spacing material (blank spaces around the work), and leading (spaces between lines) tightly together and prevents anything from wiggling, sliding, or falling out. Once the type is set and placed inside the chase, the form is locked into place using expandable pieces of metal that exert pressure on the form to keep it in place called quoins. Then a small amount of ink is applied, often with a small hand roller, to the ink plate.
After that, rollers, taking ink from the ink plate, coat the type that has been set inside the chase. The paper you would like the text to be printed on is placed against a flat surface opposite the type. A handle is then pulled, slowly and carefully, levering the two surfaces together and pressing the inked text against the sheet of paper to create an impression. As seen in the diagrams, in five steps you have a hand-printed sheet of paper!
The Kelsey Company manufactured the Excelsior Press for about 100 years (1875-1975) and it was a popular press for young boys to learn printing on for many decades. The small scale of the press and its ease of operation make it a great introduction to the art of letterpress, and many artist-including the founder of the Center for Book Arts, Richard Minsky!- got their feet wet with a Kelsey.
Of course, fine letterpress printing is not as simple as it seems, and each press (and artist) knows the right techniques to use in order to create the desired results. Experienced printers spend time adjusting packing, impression, and ink. Multiple colors require multiple sets of printing on the same sheet of paper. And, of course, different typefaces are used (and can be mixed and matched if desired) which are in themselves an art form.
The options are limitless when it comes to letterpress art, and I encourage you all to come down and see just some of the possibilities in our currently exhibit, Fine & Dirty, on contemporary letterpress art. The exhibition runs until March 31, and admission is free!
Like the bindery and other presses, the Kelsey press is available for rental by students and letterpress artists (starting at $15/hr for members). If you’re interested in taking a class and learning how to use them, check out our courses at http://www.centerforbookarts.org/classes/, stop in, or give us a call at 212-481-0295. New classes on Contemporary Letterpress have just been added, so be sure to check it out!
Is the Kelsey press your favorite press to use? What’s you’re favorite thing you have created on it? Want to give us suggestions or comments? Just want to say hi? Comment on this post, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, visit us on Facebook (/centerforbookarts) or follow us on Twitter (@center4bookarts). Can’t wait to see you there!