110 Years

This year marks the 110th anniversary of The Sterling Press (now the Sterling Name Tape Company, of course) the company my great grandfather founded using much of the equipment I am honored to use today.

To celebrate, we’re turning back the clock in the Shop and offering 50 calling cards for 50 cents – Sterling’s 1901 price – to one lucky person! For your chance to receive this price roll-back, just tell us about a favorite hand-me-down or heirloom in your family in the comments section, below! (We’ll select the winning entry randomly one week from today. See the cards in my Etsy shop here).

Sterling Price card

The Sterling Press price card circa 1908

With the move, this year got a bit away from us, but check back for some more anniversary commemorations before we close out 2011.

The Sterling seal of quality

The Sterling seal of excellence.

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Hot Metal!

As you may know, I love setting metal type. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate a good polymer plate — it’s often the best (or only) way to achieve certain things. But some of my favorite shop time is setting type, ornaments, and borders, figuring out how to make them all fit within the confines of a particular job, and to look good once they’re all there.

In the world of letterpress printing there is, however, a third option — casting full lines of type from molten metal. Sounds like fun, no?

Ludlow Slugs

Slugs cast on the Ludlow

In moving to my new shop, I’ve gained access to a Ludlow Typograph machine and can now cast lines of type or “slugs” in lead. After a crash course or two from my father and brother, (Sterling Name Tape printed name tapes with Ludlow slugs until the late 1990s) I am beginning to cast slugs for business cards, note cards and, soon, many other things.

In addition to the convenience of being able to cast lines of type with reusable metal; being able to leave jobs set up and stored if I’ll need them again without tying up my limited type holdings; and not having to worry about being out of sorts (running out of number 3s when setting a 3-heavy job really stinks), this also gives me access to a number of new typefaces. Many of these are exclusive to the Ludlow Company and aren’t digitally available.

Ludlow Blue Print

A blueprint for a gas-heated Ludlow.

The Ludlow Typograph was invented around 1906 by William I. Ludlow to directly compete with the Linotype Machine. In that, it failed miserably. If you’ve looked around at letterpress-related blogs and websites, you’re probably familiar with the Linotype. The operator sits at a keyboard that is built into the machine. As keys are pressed, brass molds or matrices for each character drop from a large magazine until the line of text is complete. At that point, the machine casts the line of type with molten metal and the matrices are returned to the magazine by a mind-numbingly complex distribution system. The Linotype — and the PC to its Mac, the Intertype Machine — are great at what they do. Really great.

Ludlow Composing Sticks

Two Ludlow composing sticks.

The Ludlow, by contrast, works by casting lines of type from similar matrices, but these have to be handset in a special composing stick. After each line is set, the stick is locked into the machine, molten metal is injected into the matrices and a line of type drops into the delivery tray. The matrices then have to be redistributed back into the case, just as with hand-set type.

Single Matrix

The top of an individual Ludlow matrix

Despite its complexity, the Linotype (and the Intertype) were far superior to the Ludlow at setting long lines of body text in relatively small sizes (14 point or less). There is no competition. What they cannot do, however, is cast very large type for things such as newspaper headlines or other display use. This is where the Ludlow excels. The Ludlow is also easier to maintain and takes up less floor space (though that becomes debatable when one factors in the floor space of the cabinets to house the matrices).

Composing stick with mats

A composing stick filled with matrices

But, as often happened in those days, practicality won out and many print shops (especially newspaper printing plants) employed both machines: the Ludlow for headlines and the Linotype for the body text.

Since I’m not printing books (yet) or newspapers nor am I in the frantic hurry of early 20th century newspaper typesetters, the Ludlow suits my purposes quite well, and I’m excited to add more new typefaces to my offerings.

Ludlow operating lever

The top of the Ludlow Typograph. The composing stick fits into the slot on the right side of the photo.

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A post from the official Lucky Duck shopper

Etsy and eBay are my go-to sources for really personal gifts, and I’m leaning on them even more since our move from Brooklyn. (Not that I am complaining, new shop after new shop in our neighborhood was proving dangerous, and I’m more than happy with the trade off that is living in a small rural town with pretty Berkshire mountain views.)

Egyptian Gardens

When a holiday or party approaches,
I haunt both sites, spending hours searching for something highly personal such as the ashtray I bought my dad, stamped with the name Egyptian Gardens, from a club with belly dancing floor shows and Greek music that my parents loved in the ‘60s, and a vintage baby book I found for my best friend/cousin’s shower that could serve as a Mad Men prop. For our first Christmas, I presented Patrick with a bunch of letterpress image cuts.

As a present, this last one was tough to pull off because I really didn’t know much about letterpress at the time. What made a cut a good find and what made one trashed? Things were further complicated by the fact that he had all sorts of automated alerts to any and all letterpress stuff; I was petrified that he would be the one to drive the cost of an item up, trying to outbid me and my created-for-the-occasion’s-need-for-secrecy bidder name.


A printing cut of a vintage bride. A lucky Ebay find!

This bride is one of my favorite wins. The cut is a little rough on the edge but I think that adds a little something to it. I know that the gold standard of the trade is an even impression, but the evidence of wear is the charm for me, a legacy of past impressions, a hint at the object’s history and, in this case, the brides who might have seen it in a local ad, or the newspapermen who might have dropped it in a rush to get the page ready by deadline.

Bridesmaid card

First Lucky Duck printing of the bride image.

We’d love to hear about your favorite old finds, or your speculation on where this image might have been used!

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New family, new designs … Lily of the valley invitation

This past summer we celebrated my younger sister’s marriage to a great guy from Finland. The celebration was an intimate and elegant garden — and later, pool — party that offered the opportunity for us all to get to know his family and send the couple off to their new life in Finland with some fanfare.

When we first talked about her invitations, the specifics of the day were not yet determined. We knew they wanted something outdoors, simple but elegant, and during the summer. Working from that early vision, I tried to craft a design that would also extend a note of welcome to Rami’s family and celebrate my sister’s upcoming move to Europe.

I had been wanting to use an image of lily of the valley for a while but no project seemed quite right. When we found out, however, that lily of the valley is the national flower of Finland I knew we had our design.

Here are some pictures of the invitations:

The invitationText detail

And, to round out the story, some pictures of the day:

Cake & Flowers


Wedding photographs by Dan Barrett. Flowers by Alessandra Barrett.

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New (old) typefaces

Just before I moved all of the printing presses, type, et cetera out of Brooklyn last year, one of my studio neighbors offered me a type cabinet half full of type. Michael, whose company, Orbino, makes beautiful leather products, was using some of the type for foil stamping on leather but wasn’t using all of it and needed the floor space more than the cabinet. Even though that meant more heavy metal to move, how could I say no?

Now, many months later, I’ve finally gone through it all, pulled proofs, and figured out what the several unlabeled typefaces are. So now there are several new typefaces to choose from for all of my customizable, hand-set products !

Here are the highlights:

Glamour MediumGlamour Medium was released by the Monotype Company in 1948 and is a copy of the German typeface Corvinus (designed around 1930 by Imre Reiner for the Bauer Typefoundry). It is similar to the typeface Eden designed by Robert H. Middleton and released by the Ludlow Company in 1934.†

BritannicBritannic is an American casting of the British Monoline Script designed in 1933.† It’s a fun script because each character is cast with an element that reaches to the edge of the sort (each individual metal letter is called a sort) to connect to the next letter.

Cloister BlackCloister Black was introduced by American Typefounders in 1904 but is an adaptation of another text face designed in 1870†.

Monogram Shadow
This is an odd typeface that I haven’t been able to find much information about. It’s called Monogram Shadow for, perhaps, obvious reasons. The individual outline of each letter is not printed but rather is formed only by its shadow.

In an upcoming post, I’ll announce an exciting new development at Lucky Duck Press and show you some MORE new typefaces that go along with it… stay tuned!

†Most of the information on the typefaces, above, comes from the book American Metal Typefaces of the Twentieth Century by Mac McGrew. It is an excellent book and indispensable reference. If you’re at all interested in typography this one is worth having. It is available from Oak Knoll Press. In fact, here’s a link.

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Stormy Weather

Update update: Our power came back on Tuesday afternoon. We had to throw away some food but it was, thankfully, just an inconvenience.

Update: This post was written around 8:30 Sunday evening. But at 8:43 we lost power at home. It’s still out and the recording on the power company’s phone line says that it may be a week or more before power is restored. Sigh. But, thankfully, having a foot-powered press means we can keep on printing!

Up in our northern corner of Connecticut, we, like many along the East Coast, spent the weekend preparing and then waiting for Hurricane Irene to do her worst. We prepared, of course, by making cocktails (Dark and Stormys since Hurricanes require way too many ingredients) and watching Key Largo. Tonight we’re listening to the last of the wind as the storm moves on. A few more hours of this and then we’re done, the forecasts say. Luckily, we didn’t feel much of the sting of the storm. No power loss, no trees down around us, a fairly dry basement, and the Shop is as we left it on Friday. Friends and family in the hurricane path are safe and sound, including those in Lucky Duck’s former Brooklyn home, on the edge of the NYC evacuation radius.

This morning we looked out and saw that our road was closed just beyond our driveway.Road closed
We walked down – as the eye of the storm passed over – to see why. It turns out that Irene helped the little river at the bottom of the hill become a not-so-little river and rise over the bridge, flooding the road.

That's water over the bridge...

Ultimately, our corner of the state was spared what could have been a great deal of destruction. This has everyone here talking about the famous (in these parts anyway) Flood of ’55. Even though it was before my time, the story of the flood is well known to me. The short version: In August of 1955 hurricanes Connie and Diane hit the state of Connecticut within five days of one another – Connie on the 13th and Diane on the 18th. As a result, southern New England and, specifically, northwest Connecticut experienced severe flooding on August 19th. Winsted – my home town and new location of my print shop – was one of the hardest (if not THE hardest) hit cities in the region.

The building that housed my great-grandfather’s shop and is now the home to Lucky Duck Press was one of the lucky ones that survived the force of the Mad River – not usually so irate – barreling down its channel alongside Main Street. One reason the Shop avoided destruction was the diversion of the water by the toppled wood structures nearby.

Mad River and The Shop

Photo by Dan Barrett

This is a picture of what the Mad River looked like this morning, with Main Street on the left and the Shop building to the right. The water is typically about three feet lower than the three white marks at the water line on the concrete wall.

Shop from Elm Street

And this is a picture after the flood in 1955. The Shop is to the left of center, the building still standing. The Bannon Building, in ruins on the right, is the one that helped divert the water and save the Shop. The people are standing on the north side of Main Street and the river is just beyond it.

Bannon building from Main StreetThis is a closer view of the Bannon Building and the side of the Shop. In its place today, Bridge Street spans the river. Below is another picture of the Bannon Building showing its facade.

Bannon BuildingBelow, another photo of the Shop, the Bannon Building, and the rubble that was Main Street that day.

Rubbled Main StreetLastly, an aerial view of the Shop, the river, and Main Street. The Shop is at the right of the frame with the flattened Bannon Building to its left. (You can also see the old railroad station, across the street from the Shop, in the bottom right of the photo.)

Aerial view

For anyone still dealing with the hurricane, now tropical storm, and its aftermath please be safe!

Goodnight Irene.

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A Move to the Country

Apologies for the long silence … in the last few months we have been busy at work printing and relocating our presses to a beautiful corner of New England. The shop move physically took only a weekend, but the decision to uproot from more than a decade in New York to the woods of Northwest Connecticut took a bit longer.

The Shop's basement

The dusty, cobwebby basement of The Shop. There are still more presses to rescue ...

Back in 2002, which seems like a lifetime or two ago to me, I braved generations of cobwebs and dust and descended into the basement of the building that has housed my family’s printing business since 1926, searching for a small, table-top letterpress to try my hand at a new hobby. Over the next few years, as my interest in printing grew, I periodically returned to the basement, rescuing neglected equipment and type to put to use in my Brooklyn studio space.

Once I had assembled a small but fully functional print shop, I began to grow a little printing business, first selling greeting cards at street fairs and open-studio tours and then expanding into custom work such as personal stationery, business cards and wedding invitations, selling on my web site and through Etsy.com.

In late 2010, it became clear that it was time to expand. Personally, the timing was perfect as well. My wife and I had been married for about a year and we were ready to move out of the city. So, that December, with the help of a handful of friends and a little bit of muscle-for-hire, I loaded a rental truck with about 3,000 pounds of cast iron, lead, and steel and made the return trip; bringing everything from Brooklyn back to the very building it had come from. Incidentally, most of this equipment had only been moved once before, when it was shipped, at my great-grandfather’s purchase, from the factory to this building in Connecticut.

Main Street

A view of Main Street from my new shop window.

I certainly miss my little 300-square-foot-studio in Brooklyn. I miss my studio-mates — two very talented painters, and my studio neighbors — a sculptor and, interestingly, a paper-goods design firm. The dynamic energy of Brooklyn cannot be matched, but we were ready for a change to the quiet, and the community, of life in a small town; the opportunity to jump from a 300-square-foot print shop to one that is somewhere around 2,000 was also impossible to pass up. If that wasn’t incentive enough, there still remain many other machines in the basement that were too large, heavy, or in need of repair to be moved to Brooklyn. One of the most exciting prospects of the move is the potential to vastly expand my printing capabilities.

The Shop facade

The Shop's facade. Out of frame to the right is where the railroad station used to stand.

The shop building, located on a main street in Winsted, Conn., is a three-story timber-framed, brick-veneered industrial building built around 1905 in a style typical of its time. Originally a warehouse for the neighboring New England Pin Company, it was strategically situated across the street from the now demolished railroad station. In 1926, my great-grandfather Howard Deming, had been in business for 25 years and was ready to expand his printing business. He purchased the building and spent the next few months and a good deal of money adding a heating system, running water, and a freight elevator to upgrade the warehouse into a proper home for his business, The Sterling Name Tape Company. (I’ve written a little about Howard’s business here). Sterling remains in the building and is still run by my family, although it no longer uses letterpress and only requires one half of the first floor rather than all three as in Howard’s day.

My new shop

A view of the press area of my new shop.

“The Shop” (as it has always been known in my family) has been a fixture in my life for as long as I can remember. As a child, I would poke around every nook and cranny searching for treasures with my brother. I guess not much has changed.

As I discover more treasures, large and small, and put them into service (if possible), I will keep you updated. Thanks for reading.

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Calling cards

This winter we picked up some new border material and we’ve finally printed some calling card samples with them. Take a look and let us know what you think.

Gingham border in orange calling card

A single-line Gingham-ish border printed in orange for some extra zip.

This card was printed from a strip of cast border material that we cut to length and then mitered the ends to meet at 45 degree angles at the corners. The typeface is 20th Century.

Gingham-style border in black calling card

Gingham-ish border again, this time in black.

This card uses the same border but without the mitered corners. The typeface is a new (to us) face called Glamour Medium. It’s a fun one.

Old English Border calling card

Old English border with Shaw Text

The border on this card is a new casting of an old border style. Instead of a metal strip, each piece is individual allowing different configurations of the elements. Note how the top and bottom borders use the same elements but are arranged differently. The American Type Founders 1912 catalog lists this as one of several “Old English Borders.” 42 inches of this border material cost $1.50 in that year. The typeface is called Shaw Text.

Ribbon border calling card

Ribbon border with Typo Script

We’d been considering buying this ribbon border for some time, but when we saw it in person there was no question. Like the Old English border, it is made up of individual pieces allowing different configurations of flowing ribbon and has two different types of corner piece. The typeface is called Typo Script. It is designed so that each lower case letter, or sort, has an element that extends to the edge of the metal. When a line of type is set, each letter appears to connect to the adjacent letters.

Cards with each of these borders will soon be available in the Lucky Duck Press Etsy shop.

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The History of Lucky Duck Press

Lucky Duck Press is a direct descendant of Patrick’s great-grandfather’s Sterling Press of Winsted, Connecticut.

The Sterling Press logo

The Sterling Press logo printed from the original printing block

In 1901, Patrick’s great-grandfather, Howard Deming, purchased a printing press by mail  for $36.10 and started The Sterling Press in the small city of Winsted, Connecticut. His business offered announcements, calling cards, invitations and business brochures and was printed by the method of the day, letterpress. He carried on, building this company, for at least seven years. At that point, though, a household crisis caused him to think about another avenue for letterpress printing.

Howard Deming

Patrick’s great-grandfather, Howard Deming founded the Sterling Press in Winsted, Connecticut in 1901

Not long after his 1907 wedding, Howard came home from the shop to find his young wife in tears! The laundry had marked her new shirtwaist with a pen and the ink had run, destroying the garment. This led Howard to develop a “wash-proof ink” and a product line of cotton nametapes that could be sewn into garments to identify the owner and eliminate the need
for marking by pen. He found a rich market in institutions with mass laundry service, such as hospitals and boarding schools.

Howard expanded the business, renaming The Sterling Press, The Sterling Name Tape Company. Parents of summer camp attendees became his largest customer group. In fact, if one went to camp in the U.S. prior to 1970 their nametapes were most likely from Sterling!

The company expanded further into personalized goods for campers, such as towels, laundry bags, and backpacks and also began printing labels for crafters and small clothing businesses. Today, my father and brother run Sterling and have continued Howard’s legacy of looking for innovative printing methods for today’s market. (Visit www.sterlingtape.com to see what they’re doing today).

Winsted, CT 1907

A view of a parade on  Main Street in Winsted, Connecticut near The Sterling Press in 1907

Over the years, any printing equipment that became outdated was moved to the basement of the Sterling building. And so, just over 100 years after Howard opened his print shop, Patrick brought some of his hand presses and lead type to Brooklyn, and Lucky Duck Press was born!

During the last few years we have returned to the old Connecticut shop to ‘liberate’ Howard’s foot-powered 1889 Golding Pearl Old Style No. 3, 1905 Golding Official No. 9 hand press, Challenge proof press and an automatic card press. Returning the equipment to its turn-of-the-century vocation of personal and business stationary, we work with Sterling’s original lead type and images, as well as photo-polymer plates, to create note cards, wedding invitations, announcements, holiday cards, personal or business stationery, and other custom items.

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Welcome to the Lucky Duck Press blog!

To start, an introduction:

Lucky Duck Press is our letterpress print shop. We print wedding invitations, social stationery, personal or business announcements, and much more. Much of what we print is custom work and we really love chatting with our clients to come up with the best piece of printed matter for their needs. Examples of past projects as well as standard “off-the-shelf” products can be found on our website: www.luckyduckletterpress.com or in our Etsy shop: www.luckyduckletterpress.etsy.com.

Arts & Crafts Invitation

Our wedding invitation was inspired by the Arts & Crafts style of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Lucky Duck Press aims to bring a slightly older-fashioned sensibility back to modern communications, creating paper goods that embody a bit of retro whimsy or just a highly personalized style, and showcase handcrafted, artisinal production. Lucky Duck is a direct descendant of Patrick’s great-grandfather’s business started in 1901, The Sterling Press of Winsted, CT, but more on that later.

This blog is intended to share the goings on at Lucky Duck Press but, more importantly, to be a source of information on letterpress printing, wedding planning, and all manner of stationery and printed matter. We’ll probably get into a bit of typography and graphic design as well.

As we post, please feel free to contact us with questions either via email or in the comments and we will try to be diligent about answering.

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for more!

Patrick and Alessandra Barrett

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