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Industry Insight

In 600 Square Feet, A Whole Wide World of Craft Printing

“My middle name is Franklin, so I had to become a printer.” And so Dave Moody did, honoring a family heritage and perpetuating the traditional arts of printing on vintage but very busy letterpress equipment.

By Patrick Henry
Published: June 16, 2011




Dave Moody of E&D Letterpress & Finishing Inc. with one of his hard-working letterpresses.

“My middle name is Franklin, so I had to become a printer.”

And so Dave Moody did, honoring a family heritage and perpetuating the traditional arts of printing on vintage but very busy letterpress equipment.

He’s the proprietor of E&D Letterpress & Finishing Inc., a one-man shop that operates out of a tiny (600 sq. ft.) sliver of a much larger industrial and office complex in Hopkins, MN. He’s been doing business in Hopkins since the mid-90s, following an 18-year stint as the owner of another small printing firm in Mountain View, CA. Through the years, he’s relied on a collection of letterpresses that defy time and technology as they continue to turn out the kinds of work that no other type of printing machinery can produce with anything like the same finesse.

Moody's workhorses are and always have been small-format Heidelbergs—cylinder presses and platen “Windmill” models that he values as much for their usefulness in die cutting, scoring, kiss cutting, and perforating as for their ability to print from type. He currently operates three 10" x 15" presses and one 13" x 18" machine, and from them comes a stream of always-in-demand items to which letterpress printing, centuries old, is still perfectly well suited: stationery, business cards, bags, invitations, napkins, and place mats. His clientele are other printers, graphic designers, and stationery stores in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.

Moody is the ultimate enthusiast of Heidelberg letterpress equipment, and the older that one of these presses is, the better he likes it—that means he can have it torn down and rebuilt for many more years of service, as he’s done with his present 13" x 18" press and with others of its type that he has owned. His preferred source for the refurbishing work that he doesn’t do himself is Whittenburg Inc., a Springfield, TN, restorer of classic Heidelbergs.

“I’ve owned and operated most of the Heidelberg cylinder presses available in my lifetime,” says Moody, whose current complement of equipment dates from the 60s and the 70s. The biggest blunder that the German press manufacturer ever committed, he declares, “was to stop making the Windmills.” (These presses get their name from the action of the double-bladed feeder that sweeps paper into the platen and out again after printing.)

Moody says that he has been around Heidelberg equipment since he was 12 years old, a claim not hard to credit given his lineage in the printing business.

His grandfather owned a printing company and a newspaper in Tennessee. His father, a professional compositor who set the type for the first issue of Playboy, ran a hot-metal type shop in San Jose, CA. There, young Dave learned how lock up galley forms and pull proofs from a Vandercook proofing press—skills that he brought to his later studies at California Polytechnic University (Cal Poly), from which he graduated with a degree in printing management in 1973.

Arriving in Minnesota in 1992 after 17 years as the proprietor of Moody Embossing and Printing in Mountain View, he worked for others until he felt ready to strike out on his own once more. He launched his present business in 1995 and has been putting in time at the shop every day since, occasionally assisted by his wife, Ellen. (“She’s probably one of the best feeders there is,” he says.)

E&D Letterpress & Finishing has no web site or e-mail—there isn’t even a computer. Something the shop has that few others possess, however, is an owner with a zeal to evangelize the arts of a process that somehow resists being labeled an anachronism no matter how digitized the rest of the industry becomes.

Moody stimulates interest in letterpress by hauling hand-operated printing equipment to nostalgia fairs and similar events throughout the state, where he dons the garb of a printer from 1910 to demonstrate how ink was applied to paper in those bygone days. He took part in nine such programs last year. His next scheduled appearance is in July at the Little Log House Antique Power Show at Little Log House Pioneer Village in Hastings, MN, where he’ll join exhibits of a grist flour mill and a blacksmith shop among other antiquities.

If this kind of torch-carrying for letterpress sounds like a labor of love, that’s exactly how it impressed Heidelberg, which picked Moody as the sole American winner in the “I love my platen press” photo contest that it ran in a 2008 issue of Heidelberg News.

It’s all highly reciprocal. “I’ve been a 51-year lover of Heidelberg,” says Moody, who also loves to discuss letterpress with anyone who needs advice or has information to share. He can be reached at E&D Letterpress & Finishing by calling 952-746-5005.

Patrick Henry, Executive Editor for WhatTheyThink.com is also the director of Liberty or Death Communications, a consultancy specializing in research, education, promotional, and editorial support services for the printing and publishing industries.

Patrick Henry is available for speaking engagements and consulting projects. To get more information contact us here.

Please offer your feedback to Patrick. He can be reached at patrick.henry@whattheythink.com.

 

Discussion

By matthew scott on Jun 21, 2011

Heidelberg Windmills are amazing presses! While pursuing both formal education at college and craft education in the print shop, I ran a 10 X 15 Windmill. In addition to the products mentioned, I (many times) imprinted odd items such as envelopes with clasp strings flying off the rear, saddle-stitched savings passbooks (yes, open the cover, grip at the face), and really thick substrates. The registration system is so accurate I regularly printed an invitation with an 11 color crest the size of a postage stamp! Nice to see these workhorses live on!

 

By Al Zowada on Jun 22, 2011

Thanks for sharing this, Pat. There are many "new" followers of letterpress, as it is now referred to as a craft, rather than simply, a niche business.

My question is, are there enough students of this craft to carry the torch of letterpress or will we see it die after this generation?

 

By Patrick Henry on Jun 22, 2011

Al, as Matthew says, it's nice to see these workhorses live on. You may recall that last year, we posted (http://printceo.com/2010/08/heidelberg-windmill/) about a 1951 Windmill that has been in continuous operation for roughly as long—ahem—as the writer of the post.

What this tells us, I think, is that as long as these wonderful machines remain in working condition, there will be people eager to learn how to work them. Since Heidelberg seems to have built its letterpresses to last forever, the answer to your question should be pretty encouraging.

 

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