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Artful mechanics

A local printing company cherishes the antique equipment it once used

Photos by Stephen Gabris


The objects pictured here may look impossibly antiquated, but many of them were state-of-the-art for hundreds of years, falling into disuse quite recently.  Printing technology changed only incrementally from the time of Gutenberg in the fifteenth century (when moveable type became common in Europe) right up to the invention of offset printing in the mid-twentieth century.



In Buffalo, we are very fortunate to have facilities that demonstrate printing at its most traditional. Western New York Book Arts (wnybac.org) is a haven for lovers of letterpress, bookbinding, and screenprinting; classes there make it possible for participants to create their own letterpress posters and cards.


Another Buffalo institution, Keller Brothers & Miller (KBM), located in Allentown on Franklin Street (kbmprinting.com) is featured in Spree's January 19 issue. KBM, founded in 1916, maintains a small museum (shown above) of printing equipment. It features an array of antique letterpress machines, vintage wooden type cases, printing blocks, inking equipment, and much more, including many historic political posters.


It’s only natural that a publishing company would be interested in printing traditions. Although Buffalo Spree is “only” fifty-two years old, the printing technology used to create the first issue of Spree in 1967 would be very different than that used today. In 1967, letterpress printing was still the common technology; offset as we know it was fairly new. Many publications used a hybrid of letterpress and offset lithography, as Spree did in the early days. It’s likely that first issue of Spree was produced in many stages, first typeset using the “hot type” method, then pasted up with visual elements, then photographed, and the resulting images transferred from a plate to a rubber blanket draped over a cylinder. The blanket transferred print and images onto the paper as it was fed into the press.


Today, digital technology has all but eliminated the prepress steps detailed above, but we still need printers. That’s a lucky fact for businesses like KBM and Spree’s printer, Freeport Press.   


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