Summer Blog Series

Hey all! You might want to keep an eye on our blog in the upcoming weeks — in addition to our writings about various projects & new releases, you can expect a bi-weekly foray into Chicago’s vast selection of library archives (microfilm, bound periodicals, rare books, old news, etc.), a series of short essays on the different methods of collating the alphabet, an iPhone app available for download; plus various exaggerations, mic-droppers, flights of fancy, etc.

In the meantime, here is an image of the sky above Meekling Press, courtesy of Google Earth.

Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 3.52.00 PM

What is Letterpress?

Benjamin Franklin, printing his newspaper  “Franklin the printer” by Charles E. Mills – Library of Congress reproduction # LC-USZC4-7217 [1].

Letterpress printing is basically using a press to print raised type and images. Traditionally, this is done with movable type, a technology that started in the west with Gutenberg in the 1440s, and around 400 years earlier than that in China – each letter is a piece of metal or wood, arranged together to make words, sentences, paragraphs. Even the white space between words and lines has to be accounted for with a little piece of metal (slightly under type high*, so it won’t ink & print). In the late 19th Century, commercial printers and newspapers moved away from hand-set type to linotype, in which entire lines of type are cast from hot metal using a linotype machine – much faster than setting them letter by letter! It wasn’t until the 1960s and 70s that newspapers moved from letterpress printing to offset lithography and digital typesetting.

Letterpress type is backwards – leading to the caution to mind your p’s & q’s (also your b’s & d’s, and since it’s set upside down, you should also watch out for your n’s & u’s). This is from The Jury of Sudden Hands

We do most of our letterpress printing with hand-set type and linoleum cuts, but sometimes we’ll also take advantage the new high-tech letterpress method in wide use today of photopolymer plates – where a plastic plate is made from a computer file and then mounted on a base and printed on the press. We used polymer plates to print the covers of On the Stairs, for example.

There are different types of presses, but ours is a floor-standing platen press made by Shniedewind & Lee in Chicago in the 1880s. Before it came to us, it lived for thirty years or so in the back of a bookshop, and before that it belonged to a Baptist church where it was used to make programs and newsletters. Most of the metal type we have comes from that church, too. At some point in its lifetime, the press was hooked up to a motor, probably in a situation something like this one, with several presses connected to a motor by belts going up to the ceiling:

The industrialization of printing. Compare this photograph to the artist’s rendition of a serene Benjamin Franklin at the beginning of this post. “Fitzwilliam Press Room 1917” photograph by Covert via LSU Digital Library, Louisiana State Museum [1].

We don’t have a motor for our press – instead we use a treadle to power it by foot, which is a great workout, and probably makes us really good at biking or kicking. When a design calls for more than one color, the colors have to be printed one at a time, the press cleaned off and re-inked for each new color, and the paper fed through again, by hand. It’s a slow process, and meticulous, but I find it totally addicting & wonderful, a tactile expression of something abstract as language, thought, poetry.

Let me know if you have any questions & I’ll do my best to answer them. I love learning & talking about letterpress! Also check out the following websites for lots more information:

Briar Press
Five Roses
Letterpress Commons



Today, we printed and put together these matchbooks. John disassembled 100 matchbooks – pried open the staples and cut out the phosphorus strips, and then I printed “meekling press” onto some marbled paper and, on the inside, quotes from a few of the books we’ve published in the past. Marbling paper is my new obsession, and I’ll have to write a post on here soon about how to do it because it is truly so enjoyable. Then we put the matchbooks back together – stapled in the matches and glued the phosphorus strips onto the back. A good day’s work! (We also ate pizza.)

How to Make a Clamshell Box


I’m making a bunch of clamshell boxes for the “fancy” edition of Dan Ivec’s book, On the Stairs. So I thoughts I’d share the fun, with a tutorial about how to make clamshell boxes. Enjoy!



You will need:

  • ruler
  • sandpaper
  • knife
  • bone folder
  • pencil
  • brush
  • wood glue
  • pva glue (i dilute it with a little bit of water or methyl cellulose)
  • bookboard or chipboard – medium to thick
  • paper or book cloth to cover your box



Measure the trays for the clamshell box directly from the object you’re building the box for, so it’ll fit nicely in there. To find the height and width of the inner tray base, take the size of the object and add one board thickness. In the picture above: the width of the tray base is the width of the object plus one board thickness. Cut these pieces using a straight edge and a sharp knife. The tray will need three walls:


Once you have all of those cut out – and be sure to get your corners square – you can sand any rough edges down. Now you are ready to glue the pieces together for the inner tray!

Spread out some wood glue on a scrap piece of board like so:


Be sure to put down some scrap paper so you don’t make a big gooey mess on your nice table! Place the edge of the base into the wood glue to get the entire edge covered evenly, wiping the excess glue off by tilting the board and wiping it against the piece of scrap as seen below. Then press the glued edge onto the wall piece you have just cut. You can secure it there with a bit of masking tape while it dries.


Attach the other two walls in the same way, and then use some bricks or other weights to press the boards together until the glue dries, about 30 minutes.



Now, get out your pretty pretty paper or book cloth, because we’re going to cover the inner tray. The paper or cloth for this part will have to be two times the height of the walls, plus 1 ½ inches, and then long enough to wrap around all three walls with ¾ to spare on either end.

Take your brush and spread some PVA glue onto one of the short walls of your inner tray, then press it down onto the strip of cloth so that closed side is ¾ inch away from the edge:


Then flip it over & smooth out any bubbles with your bone folder. Continue in the same way for the other two walls, smoothing down each side with a bone folder as you go, until you have something that looks like this:


Next, we’ll glue the bottom flaps onto the base of the tray. Pinch the corners and cut them with scissors, then glue the cloth down and smooth with the bone folder.


You’re going to have to make some fancy cuts to make the cloth (or paper, if you’re using pretty papers) fit into the inside of the tray. I’ve made a couple of different diagrams of the cuts below.




OK! Once you’ve got all those tricky cuts made, glue the tabs down in the following order:

Start with the open side of the tray, and then glue down the short walls before the longer wall:


Your bone folder is your friend, really be sure to tuck the cloth into the corners. 🙂


YOWZA: almost done with that part! But you’ve got to cover up that unsightly bookboard peeking out at you. Cut a piece of paper & glue in on there, pulling it over the edge & onto the bottom of the tray. The paper should be slightly smaller than your tray so it doesn’t go quite all the way to the walls, and it should be wide enough to overhang the open edge.


Very nice.


The inner tray fits neatly into the outer tray when the box is closed. The construction of the outer tray will be exactly the same as for the inner tray – hooray! The measurements for your boards are below:


Follow the directions for the inner tray.


Cut your boards for the case. You will need two covers (front + back) and a spine.


Cover height: Outer tray height + 2 board-thicknesses
Cover width: Outer tray width + 1 board thickness
Spine height: Same as covers
Spine width: outer tray wall height (don’t add anything to this or it will sit funny!)

Cover the boards with glue (PVA) and then place them glue-side down onto a piece of book cloth like in the picture above. If you’d like to cover the case in paper you can do that too, but it’s best if the spine is at least attached to the covers with book cloth, which is more flexible and durable than paper. Flip it over and smooth it out with a bone folder to get rid of any boops & bubbles!


Use your bone folder to work the book cloth down into the creases.


Cut a piece of book cloth about 1 ½ inches wider than the spine, and 1/8 smaller than the inner tray height. Brush the back of it with glue and adhere it to the inside of the spine, smoothing it out with a bone folder and working it into the creases:


Put the finished case under a weight to prevent it from warping as the glue dries.


Alright, this is the last step! Good job! You’re going to take the two trays you made and attach them to the case using wood glue for a super strong & sturdy box. Spread wood glue over the bottom of the inner case (the smaller of the two) using a scrap piece of board. Try and get the glue all the way to the edges without going over.


Carefully place the tray down onto the case so that the inner edge is all the way up against the inner edge of the cover, with an even lip around the outside edges of the tray:


Finally, spread wood glue over the bottom of the outer (bigger) tray. Place the outer tray upside down over the inner tray, and then close the outside cover over it. Press gently with your fingers, then carefully open the case up again. Everything should be in its proper position…


Put some weights (or heavy books) in the open box for an hour, and then close the box and leave it overnight with weights on top.

Good luck!