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Elizabeth Nevin

 

[December 2006]
“We hope to provide a central area to gather and store printing related information and links for letterpress printers and enthusiasts.”
Elizabeth Nevin, Briar Press

Briar Press

What is Briar Press ? A true museum or a totally virtual project ?

Briar Press, founded in 1973, is my personal press and collection. Briar Press, launched in 1994, is an online, non-commercial site for letterpress printers and enthusiasts. Some of my presses are shown in the Museum at Briar Press, but the Briar Press Museum is a virtual project.

The site provides both historical and practical information. There are currently six main sections. An upgrade in process will greatly expand the site.

  • The Museum at Briar Press - A display of over 200 photographs of actual presses in worldwide public and private museums and personal collections.
  • The Directory at Briar Press - A collection of over 750 listings for letterpress services and organizations, continually updated by our viewers.
  • Cuts & Caps - A growing collection of over 500 letterpress-era ornaments and initials reborn as postscript art, free for downloading for personal use.
  • Pin mark Reference - A catalogue of 145 pin marks useful for understanding
    the history and age of type.
  • The Discussion at Briar Press - A forum where subscribers can exchange ideas and information on all matters related to letterpress, academic and practical.
  • The Classifieds at Briar Press - An active Classifieds for those involved in letterpress printing, or dreaming of learning. A free resource for buying and selling letterpress equipment.

During the last few years there has been a noticeable increase in the interest in letterpress printing. One indication of this is the increased use of the Classifieds. Last year the Classifieds at Briar Press received from 60 to 70 ads per month. This year the number of listings has doubled.The current two month period from July 15 to September 15 received over 260 non-commercial advertisements.

The closing of the Hall of Graphic Arts in the Smithsonian Institute in December 2003, removed many rare presses from public view. Fortunately a former curator gave Briar Press a number of photographs from that collection and they can now be viewed online.

While some museums have decided to shut down their letterpress exhibits, mainly for financial reasons, others are flourishing. The number of collectors is increasing and the prices for equipment are soaring. As more people take advantage of Internet access, many collectors have been able to expand their own collections to the point where these collections far exceed the exhibits in existing public and private institutions. Many collectors have shared photographs of their presses with us in the Museum at Briar Press. The number of schools offering book arts and letterpress programs is
also on the rise.

Why have you created Briar Press ?

The answer is two-fold:

The first phase of Briar Press was started in 1973 by happenstance. At that time my husband and I came across a table-top press at a garage sale. Inspired by a spontaneous recall of an experience printing on a letterpress that I had some 50 ++ years ago in 6th grade, I jumped at the opportunity to purchase it. The price was $15 for the complete outfit, press, type, cabinet, tools. What started as a basement pastime with one small press, has grown to a collection of over 40 presses and also expanded into cyberspace. In the past 10 years Briar Press has become an almost full-time avocation, especially because of increased activity on briarpress.org.

The second phase of Briar Press came almost 12 years ago. At that time, the staff of Briar Press doubled in size, consisting of myself as management, and my son as the technical department. Two projects motivated us to go online. In 1993, in an effort to assist the declining number of letterpress resources, Briar Press self-published a book entitled “The Letterpress Resource Handbook”. Without the Internet, the effort took over a year and produced a listing of only 200 resources for letterpress printers. The
second project involved a beautiful copper letterpress ornament that I wanted to use for printing. Since some of the lines were damaged, I made the
"repair" as follows: I printed the damaged cut on the letterpress. Using my newly acquired but limited computer skills, I scanned the printed image, digitally repaired it, and converted it to a vector image from which a new cut was made.

Subsequently, while perusing some of my turn-of-the-century type catalogs, I became interested in the idea that I might be able to convert to vector images, some additional cuts for letterpress and computer use. So the Cuts & Caps section took form.

Using the "Letterpress Resource Handbook," my newly formed collection of cuts and caps, and a handful of photos of printing presses, our son design and built the first online version of Briar Press as a gift for me. The purpose at that time, was to provide a place to collect and record information on letterpress history and printing in a media that was easy to update and expand, and one that was gaining in popularity. It is my opinion that the rebirth of letterpress could not have happened without the
Internet.

Today, our goal for Briar Press remains much the same as when we started. There are many wonderful letterpress sites and resources all over the Internet. Our objective is to provide an interactive gathering place to share and store printing related information, and to provide links to these many valuable sites so that everyone may benefit from all the work that has been collected in various locations. While admittedly not experts in skill or knowledge compared to the fine printers of the past and present, we have consultants, friends, and contacts who are historians, experts, skilled craftsmen - and craftswomen - who are a large force in the new era of letterpress. These people continually provide the details, answers and information that are the backbone of the Briar Press site.

Do you have an idea of the profile of your readers ?

Our readers come from very diverse backgrounds. I would say that they fall into the following groups:

  • Formally trained and experienced letterpress printers and educators who are interested in sharing their knowledge with others.
  • Printers who are new to letterpress and who need information on purchasing, and using letterpress equipment. Many of these are graphic art students or graduates with a graphic arts background.
  • New and experienced printers who are interested in buying or selling equipment. Many collectors visit the Classifieds daily or even many times a day to look for that rare press or type for their collection.
  • Non printers who visit the site because of their interest in our free cuts and caps which can be downloaded for personal use. Commercial users are asked to pay a fee to offset our growing expenses.
  • People who are interested in researching the history of, or identifying a press or type for use or sale.

What are your future projects for Briar Press ?

Briar Press is in the process of developing version 5 to accommodate a continually growing user-base and to improve the stability of the site. This will be a complete redesign and update with a more powerful script and options. The project has taken much longer than anticipated because it has grown larger than expected. Also, the designer, our son, is finishing his last year in graduate school and has had limited free time to work on the site. The delay has been frustrating for administrators and users, but we think it will be worth the wait.

The revised site will be greatly expanded with many new sections. Those sections include a revised and expanded Check-Log as mentioned below, a library of manuals in PDF form for letterpress and printing related equipment, and links to sites where these manuals can be found, along with some larger sections that I can not mention at the moment.

The late Ben and Elizabeth Lieberman maintained a registry of press names from 1960 to 1982, the “Check-Log of Private Press Names”.With permission from the Lieberman’s son, the Check-Log will be reactivated in the new Briar Press upgrade.

The site will also be much more interactive. Viewers will be able to sign in and to post comments and photos directly to the Museum, Pin Mark Reference, and other areas. They will be able to write reviews on services offered and edit their own Directory listings and Classifieds. The new Discussion at Briar Press, which has proved to be successful in its trial run on the current site, will be integrated into the revised version.

As we expand the site, we keep in mind our original purpose which is to benefit all letterpress printers and enthusiasts. However, we are especially committed to providing free services to the non-commercial and hobby printer so that their knowledge can be shared with future generations.

Currently many of our services are available only to people who provide services directly to the public. We have not been able to accommodate businesses that sell only to the trade, or printers who print and sell only their own work. The upgrade will accommodate a wider range of products and services from a broader group of participants.

The future of Briar Press depends, as always, on our readership and contributors. We are hoping that with increased exposure and interest in letterpress printing, viewers throughout the world will continue to contribute photos and information enabling us to help make our contribution towards promoting a vibrant letterpress community.

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