Lori Hansen's vintage letterpress

Lori at the letterpress.jpg

Lori Hansen and her 1882 letterpress

Monday through Friday she works with pixels and laser printers, designing computer
graphics for advertising and public relations at EMA in Albany. But on Saturdays Lori Hansen abandons keyboard, mouse and laser printer for ink, wood and steel.

A couple of years ago Hansen found a vintage 1880's letter press on Ebay. Fifteen hundred dollars, five guys, a hydraulic lift, an elaborate system of pulleys and a big truck later it was hers.

She gave us a tour of her vintage print shop, tucked away in a corner of the Historic Albany Architectural Parts Warehouse, where she prints fun, quirky, handmade cards on beautiful paper.

A closer look at Lori and the press, including photos and video of how it works -- after the jump.

You're a graphic designer -- you can create pretty much any design and style you want very easily with a computer and laser printer. So why the letterpress?

It's really satisfying to print this way. It's like knitting--it's that very direct instant gratification. I enjoy working with the computer, but this is just different. You kind of feel like you're going back in time a little bit. I really love it. It just sounds so soothing-- the way it clanks. And I love paper. It's like fabric -- all the different types and the way they feel. (Laughs) I married a paper guy (artist Ken Ragsdale).

Also, you have to be very focused and aware of what's going on while you're using it because it's really a pretty dangerous machine. You could pretty easily smash your fingers in it like you could with any mechanical object, so you just always have to be aware. But you get in the zone and you can just kind of forget all of your troubles.

Letter press .jpg

I have a press that's similar to this in Portland, where I used to live, and I missed it. When I bought this one, I didn't even know what I intended to do with it. Now I'm making a lot of cards. But at first it was like buying yarn you know? I just missed the smell of the ink and the sound and the time you put into it.

ink on letterpress.jpg

sorts a.jpg

You have another press in Portland?

Yes. Right now a friend is using it in her shop. She has about six presses and does it full time. Letterpress is making kind of a resurgence. Not in Albany, but in some other places. It's become kind of cool. And Portland is kind of the Mecca for letterpresses. It's also big in Brooklyn.

Why is it catching on ?

It may be because it's gotten a little bit rare and harder to find this stuff. Maybe people are starting to appreciate it now that they're realizing that tons and tons and tons of this old type was just melted down. I mean it used to be really available in the 60s. Newspapers were still printing with linotype slugs until 1978 I think. So it was always around and then suddenly people got rid of it all and then people started realizing "wow, we've got to keep some of this around."

Also the advent of really particular brides helped. I hate to credit Martha Stewart with what I do, but she did sort of encourage people to use letterpress.

lori cards.jpg

Besides focus, what does it take to operate a letter press?

You have to be kind of an organized dislexic. You have to be able to read upside down and backwards. There are so many little pieces and you have to have all of the little bits-- all of the letters the different sizes, the images. You can have a letter in ten point but 12 point doesn't look much different so you have to make sure you have everything well organized. You need to be a little detail oriented. The gentleman I bought the press from had not put a lot away. I spent probably 8 months sorting things out and getting them in place before i could really print.


More sorts.jpg

still more sorts.jpg

It's a really detail oriented process I mean you can spend five hours setting a business card and then one letter falls out and the whole thing falls apart and you have to start it again.

The work that comes from the press has a very vintage feel. What's so intriguing about vintage?

I don't know i think it's really classic. And it has a used kind of homey comfort, you know? It's not going to smell like new carpet. I like that it has a history to it.. you look a this cut with a guy with a platter of meat and you just wonder what was it used for? I've always been the type of person.

More fun lettterpress facts from Lori:
+ The expression "out of sorts" dates back to the letterpress. The little letters are sometimes called sorts. If you're "out of sorts," you can't accomplish much.

+"Mind your Ps and Qs" also come from the letterpress. The letters on the sorts are backward, so you have to stop and think before you put up a P or a Q because they look similar. The same goes for b and d, but Ps and Qs sounds better.

+At least one politician in the day was known as "The I man" because he used the word "I" so much they didn't have enough I's to quote him.

Eventually Lori says she'll start a shop on etsy. Until then you can find some of her cards at Elissa Halloran and at the Historic Albany warehouse. If you come by on a Saturday, she may even demonstrate -- but for now, here's a quick look at how it works.

This interview was edited and condensed.

Above Photos: Kim Dunham

A few more of Lori's cards:

refrigerator card.JPG

more cards.JPG

even more cards.JPG

Find It

Historic Albany Architectural Parts Warehouse
89 Lexington Avenue
Albany, NY 12206


Very cool. When will we be seeing these on t-shirts all over Lark Street and St. Rose?

Not to be nit-picky but "Mind your P's and Q's" actually came from hundreds of years ago in pubs in England. When people got out of control or too drunk they were told to mind their Pints and Quarts, or P's and Q's, which were what alcohol was served in at that time.

I've heard that Pints and Quarts theory too, but it seems more plausible that "mind your p's and q's" has its origins in the printshop. We'll never know for certain, but anyone who has ever handset type knows to heed the maxim....

That is one beautiful press. Great work!

thanks for featuring my photos, AOA. :) i am in love with letterpress and i think the people who are keeping it alive in today's world are really doing something special. it was really great meeting lori and having the opportunity to see her amazing work and studio. i took tons of photos,you can see the rest here. i seriously cant wait until the etsy site is up and running!

Those type cases are clean.. and organized I would say judging from the pictures.

I bet Lori had some very expert help setting them up once, and now has some real cool help. People willing to do the smallest tasks for food...


In the late 1960s I was editor of my college newspaper in NYC. We used a printer in Yonkers. I would drop off the typed columns (manual typewriter). 2 days later at the printer I often had columns too long and you only found out when the linotype was set - each line of print was a solid linotype. I had to edit the columns with the printer by literally cutting linotype out (words, phrases etc) to fit the allowable column spacing. Everyone involved ended full of ink up to our elbows. Thanks for the memories.

I don't get to Albany too often, so I'd love to know when Lori opens up her Etsy shop. Do you have an email for her so I can write to her about this?

Sounds like Lori's a knitter, too.
Wonder if she does any knitting-related cards.

Thanks for this great story.

What a great and interesting story. Reading about all of the connections from Portland to the Parts Warehouse, EMA , Ellisa Halloran's, history and that paper guy. All connected to Lori and her press. Great stuff!

the HAF warehouse is my happy place.

Wow, didn't know anyone else in the Albany area still owned letterpress. We've been in business in the Troy area (just outside Albany) for over 50 years and still own and operate all of our original letterpress equipment, which consists of 2 Heidelbergs and a Kelsey and C&P. Essentially, we're the last complete and fully operational letterpress print shop in the Capital District area to my knowledge. We print from all letterpress media including our 1890s wood type, metal hand type, a Ludlow typecaster with 3 cabinets of matrix and the newer polymer plates. http://thecenterpress.web.officelive.com/default.aspx

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