The Hand-Press Revolution

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In the Oxfordshire village of Lower Brailles, nearly halfway between Stratford and Banbury, Louisa Hare operates her Heidleberg Platten — a letterpress that functions on the same principles originally designed by Johannes Gutenberg in the early 14th-century. This is the story of one woman whose passion for her craft breathes new life into that old American adage, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.

Louisa Hare, creator of the internationally-renowned First Folio Shakespeare cards — a portfolio of hand-made postcards with extracts of Shakespeare’s First Folio sold in Stratford, London, Washington, DC, and all over the world — invited the staff of the Shakespeare Bookshop for an afternoon apprenticeship. In her studio and press room, we stepped back in time and observed a working hand-press reminiscent of those in Shakespeare’s day. In the two hours that I spent with Louisa, I learned more about the printing technologies of the hand-press period than I did from the countless hours reading about them. I hope the following short video clips will give you a glimpse into the way in which Louisa prints her famous cards.

In this first clip, I tried to get as many of the types in the shot as I could. Unfortunately, the poor quality of the video does not adequately show the intricate, hand-made type. In the case of the First Folio and Louisa’s cards, the type size is called pica, and is designed in very much the same way as in Shakespeare’s time — you know, just with less amounts of poisonous lead.

After the painstaking task of setting type onto a composing stick, the type and image blocks are transferred into a frame and surrounded by various forms of furniture, as Louisa explains below:

Once the text is set, it is time to put ink onto the rollers (which distribute the ink evenly). Ready to print.

All that remains is a bit of guillotine work, and the cards are ready for distribution. The Shakespeare Bookshop is proud to have the distinction of being the only shop to sell Louisa’s complete range of First Folio cards, which can be seen on her website, Shakespeare Cards. Many thanks to Louisa for her hospitality and for her letterpress tutorial.

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