Every so often, I get it into my head that I desperately need a tiny printing press.
At which point I go through a mental process (and series of web searches) that goes something like this:
- I could buy a Speedball Press or other small art press. Art, ink, paper, squeeze them together—boom! printing! …But I don’t make the kind of art that such presses are designed to make copies of, and I don’t want to have to learn all the stuff I would have to learn to make good prints with such a press even if I had art that I wanted to print.
- I could buy an Open Press Project press. They provide free 3D-printable files to create your own micro printing press, or you can buy one (set your own price!) that they’ve already printed and built. Nifty! …But here, too, the main goal is to print art, not words. And it’s made out of plastic.
- OK, what about approaching this from another direction? I could buy an actual LINOTYPE MACHINE on eBay. Does it work? Do I have room for it? Would I ever use it? WHO CARES, IT’S A LINOTYPE MACHINE. …But it costs $48,000. Um. Never mind.
- …It turns out that what I really want is not just to be able to print stuff at home (though I would want whatever I got to be in working order), but to have one of those gorgeous old cast-iron printing presses. They are beautiful! They include elements with names like platen, and tympan, and frisket! They have a magical aura about them! They can be used to print text! …They are also way too big and heavy to fit easily into the limited amount of free space in my house. (I suppose I could keep one in the garage.) And any that might be close to being in working order are likely be expensive, like this 1863 letterpress that might or might not work, for the low low price of only $10,000.
- Here’s one in working order, but that’s $1,800.
- This one is only $200! And it works! It was used in an Amish community! …And it weighs 2,000 pounds, and is available for pickup only, in Kentucky. And I see no indication of physical dimensions, but presumably if it weighs a ton, it’s bigger than I really have space for.
- I suppose I could go for a small tabletop card-printing press, like this one. Looks pretty, though slightly rusted; relatively affordable; would work if its rubber roller were replaced. I suspect that this is basically the equivalent of the Speedball Press, just older and prettier.
…But in the end, I gradually come to the sad conclusion that I what I want isn’t really the reality of a printing press at all; it’s the magic of a printing press. A real printing press is, at its core, just a way to press ink onto paper. But printing press magic is something more than that. Printing presses look cool. They provide a voice/platform by which individuals or small groups can communicate to the world at large. They are Old. They are manually operated. They have that quasi-steampunky Big Cast Iron Machine mystique. I love them for the same reason I love old typewriters, and my Curta calculator, and zeppelins—not for any inherent property of their own, not because I would really use one for practical purposes, but just because certain kinds of old machines feel magical to me.
Sadly, nobody on eBay or Etsy seems to be selling quasi-steampunky mystique as such.
So I’m probably going to once again decide not to buy any printing presses.
But they sure are tempting.