Letterpress Printing: Surviving, and Even Thriving, in Greenpoint

Earl Kallemeyn, working the letter press. All photos by Kate Truisi.
Earl Kallemeyn, working the letter press. All photos by Kate Truisi. Fresh haircut by David Arce at Tomcats.

To say that Earl Kallemeyn is a throwback is an understatement. Earl’s firm, Kallemeyn Press (130 Dobbin Street), prints with the same technology that Gutenberg used to print his bibles in the early fifteenth century. You might imagine that a man who has built his business on such an obsolete technology would struggle to find business, but this is not so with Kallemeyn.
kallemeyn-press-working-greenpoint-photo-by-kate-truisiLetterpress printing is a way of printing using an old fashioned printing press; a process that produces copies by repeatedly directly pressing raised inked letters against paper. Kallemeyn prints from plates that originate in computer programs, then he inks them and presses paper against them, transferring the ink from the type and creating an impression on paper that cannot be duplicated by a jet printer. The process is not fast, and setting up a single print may take an hour while the printing may last another two hours.

kallemeyn-press-earl-kallemeyn-greenpoint-photo-by-kate-truisi
Earl Kallemeyn

For some, such work might be drudgery, but Kallemeyn, a man with a passion for paper and ink, still loves the work, even after a lifetime in the field. For him, the pressure in letterpress printing is the essence of its beauty. Kallemeyn says that the pressure involved in his style of printing gives it a touch and a range of colors, still far superior to any laser jet printer.

Kallemeyn has had a lifelong fascination with paper and print. He is the son of a Chicago printer who had already discarded his movable type blocks a half century ago, giving them to his son to play with. As a child, Kallemeyn was enthralled by the beauty of old books printed on letterpresses. He bought his first letterpress in 1974 at the age of twenty-six and he has been in love with printing this way ever since. People are welcome to walk into his shop and see how he prints his jobs.

kallemeyn-press-letterpress-greenpoint-photo-by-kate-truisiKallemeyn is not alone in his love for old-school printed paper. He actually doesn’t advertise much, because he doesn’t need to. “If they want me they will find me,” he says, and clients seek him out and find him because the beauty of his business cards and wedding invitations simply speaks for itself. Clients include J.P Morgan, I.M. Pei and Ralph Lauren, amongst many others. His work is not cheap, but clients are willing to pay for it because the beauty of his printing is simply unmatched.

Kallemeyn PressWhen Earl speaks about printing, he still beams and his love for printing animates his conversation. He quoted a printer whose dying words summed up his love affair with printing. He simply said, “I have seen wet ink on paper.” “It doesn’t get any better than that,” Kallemeyn added.

About Geoff Cobb

Geoffrey Cobb is a brooklyn high school history teacher and writer of the blog historicgreenpoint.wordpress.com. He has lived in Greenpoint for over twenty years and is the author of a history of the area Greenpoint Brooklyn's Forgotten Past.