The Vandercook 100 is a beautiful testament to the Vandercook proofing press, letterpress printing, and the craft of fine typography. Heather Mitchell, the book’s author, founded the letterpress studio Just Vandy (named after the press) in 2009, the year the Vandy celebrated its 100th year.
Through The Vandercook 100, Mitchell is trying to inspire others to learn more about printing and break the bonds of the computer, even for a moment.
The beautiful volume, which Mitchell self-published, is a showcase of 100 contemporary letterpress practitioners from the world over. The photographs of the printers reveal 100 love affairs with this legendary machine. For more on the project, go here. Below, Mitchell answers some questions about her passion.
What triggered your interest in letterpress and the Vandercook?
After many years of designing corporate annual reports, I had the opportunity to work at Ph.D, a design studio. Under the creative direction of Clive Piercy and Mick Hodgson, I learned how important it is to be passionate about your work; to love what you do. About 10 years ago, I bought a Vandercook Proof Press with no clue as to how it worked. I made a concerted effort to restore my press, take a few classes, and get it up and running. For me it was the tactile feel of the paper and the smell of the ink that fostered my love for letterpress. I was ready to slow down. It was nice to step back and enjoy the process of creating something that wasn’t disposable.
This was a huge effort to find 100 printers. How did you go about it?
At Vandercookpress.info you can register your Vandercook press in an online census—each press has a serial number. You can look up your press and see who inspected it, and what year it was manufactured. Two years ago, 1,500 presses were documented to have survived worldwide. From the census, I created a master list of Vandercook press owners. After a huge Google search, I was able to obtain 950 e-mail addresses for Vandercook owners. I put up a website, with a call for entries, and sent out e-blasts to the 950 people.
Were there any surprises in your research?
From the beginning, this project was about celebrating the printers who don’t necessarily get featured all the time. I wanted a diverse group: younger and older, novices and masters. The biggest surprise were the stories that were told. You really get a feel for the passion and love/hate relationships that develop between a printer and their press.
Were there any proprietors that you could not find, who you wanted to get?
Currently, the online census lists 1,738 Vandercook presses worldwide. Vandercook presses pop up in the strangest places. You may find one in a barn, in your grandfather’s basement, or in a world-renowned institution. They all have stories to tell, but many Vandercook owners are unreachable. They want to remain offline.
How did you finance the project?
I am so grateful for my team of friends and family who generously gave their time, talents, and enthusiasm for this project. The 100 participants graciously donated money to help subsidize the cost of printing. Without them, this book quite simply wouldn’t have happened. Is there another in the offing?
Ha ha ha… you never know.
For more Steven Heller, check out The Education of a Graphic Designer—one of the many Heller titles available at MyDesignShop.com.