The Bay Area Printers’ Fair is hosted by the San Jose Printer’s Guild, a small organization of printmakers that operates out of San Jose History Park. It is an annual event that celebrates traditional printmaking, letterpress, bookbinding, papermaking, and other related arts.
The fair is true eye candy for any paper/stationery/analog nerd! I went with some of my coworkers and took way too many photos. Have a look!
First stop: A series of 4 inked tabletop presses, each with select letters of the alphabet.
The result is a DIY multi-colored alphabet print!
Next, the opportunity to hand-set your name! Following a diagram, you would locate the individual letters and arrange them facing backwards. Then, the letters are fixed tightly into a frame
Ink is rolled onto the press, and then pushing the handle down prints the letters onto a small sheet of paper!
At another booth, stamps and woodblocks from previous print jobs were on sale for mere cents! I guess once the job is over, there is no need for the blocks anymore. It was fun looking through the interesting logos, business names, and other things.
All the blocks are backwards. Here is a number “2”, and a some small images.
A whole case of letters and numbers! Seeing blocks laid out like this really reminded me of the Field Notes Two Rivers edition.
One of my favorite exhibitors at the event was Eleanor Murray, a collector and seller of vintage papers, ephemera, and other delightful wares.
Here are some vintage wildlife prints. I looked really hard for an owl print, but could not find one.
Pages of German and Hebrew text
Calligraphy pamphlets. Speedball is currently on its 24th edition of the Speedball Textbook — this is the 7th edition!!!
Pen holders and writing nibs. I’ve heard of Osmiroid — they are known for their sets, which include one fountain pen body and an assortment of screw-on calligraphy nibs.
I was quite tempted to buy this pack of vintage nibs!
Beautiful marbled papers. If you haven’t yet, you definitely need to check out Tessa’s recent blog post on how marbled paper is made!
Charming prints of various flora and fauna. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are some vintage Audubon prints in there!
Travel-themed ephemera: tickets, stamps, documents in foreign languages
Two airmail envelopes — the top is from 1947 — over 10 years before my mom was born!
Bills, receipts, and other items. Most if not all the writing was done in pencil or fountain pen ink.
It fascinates me that these forms were probably mundane at the time they were written, but are such interesting relics now. There were also paper-clipped stacks of old letters — maybe between pen pals, business partners… a slightly voyeuristic part of me wanted to read them all.
Other booths had assortments of new and used books for sale.
My coworker flips through a book of typefaces.
Tiny leatherbound almanacs, pocketbooks, and planners, alongside bags of stamps for the philatelic crowd. I was hoping to find some authentic field notes, but did not spot any.
A stunning book of ornamental penmanship — selling for $75+. Look at how ornate that cover is!
At another booth, you could make your own thread-bound mini book!
A rather random photo of a vintage corner rounder. I have a small handheld corner rounder that I use for scrapbooking — this industrial one must be able to punch through 100 sheets of paper all at once!
A main attraction of the event was the “Moving Mill”, a portable paper pulp machine. The operator travels around the region showing kids and adults alike how recycled paper is made!
Here, she has just ripped up pieces of junk mail and old documents, and is turning on the engine that will grind up the papers into pulp.
Once the papers have deteriorated enough, you can make your own sheet of recycled paper! Here is Diana dipping the screen into the watery pulp mixture
Once the screen is lifted, water drips out and only the pulp remains. You flip the screen upside down to drop the pulp out, and then leave it to dry into sheets.
The printing office was open for drop-in tours, and we went inside to listen to the volunteer docents speak about the history of printmaking — from the Gutenberg Bible til modern day. They did a live demonstration of a pedal-operated press, and explained the physics behind the machines.
Drawers full of individual letters, in all sorts of typefaces.
Apparently back in the heyday of hand-set type, the ideal employees for the task were young 11-year-old boys and girls — quick learners with small fingers, perfect for picking up those tiny little metal letters!
A treatise posted on the wall of the printing house — I loved how poetic this was.
Outside the printing house, there was a larger press where you could print your own souvenir poster!
A closer look at the reversed text, created letter by letter.
A volunteer operator carefully helps you remove the print.
Excited about my freshly printed poster!
I hope you enjoyed these photos! This event was a fascinating peek into an old world art form that has not only survived, but found its place as an artisan craft.
While traditional letterpress printing largely went out of style once computers and word processors became mainstream, but that doesn’t mean the art has died out entirely. Just as vinyls and record players are becoming must-haves for discerning hipsters, vintage letterpress and print have seen a revival.
Nowadays, it is in style for brides to have letterpressed wedding invitations, and business professionals to have thick, luxuriously printed business cards. It makes me really happy to know that there is a demand for these rustic, hand-produced works!
For more information on the Printers’ Guild, check out their website.