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Keeping The Craft Alive

A look at Chicago Printing Company, Rohner Letterpress

Today, the print industry is all about computers, transferring files over FTP sites, and digital toner cartridges that can make almost any color in milliseconds.  It can get dull.  It also lacks the artistic element that used to be required in the printing industry, when true artisans trained from young ages to operate the machinery that would eventually produce extraordinary prints.  Take this image (below) of a pressman inside a press at RR Donnely & Sons in Chicago in 1942.   Images like this really incite respect for the craftsmen that ran printing presses before today’s advanced technology.

Old Chicago Printing Press

Working inside a printing press at RR Donnely and Sons, printers of the Montgomery Ward Catalog, 1942, Chicago. Torkel Korling. (photo taken from Calumet 412)

At AlphaGraphics Chicago North, we try to keep up with the trends and grow into where technology is taking the print industry.  It’s an exciting thing to be a part of.  But as much as we look forward to the future of print, we recognize that it’s important to have the respect for those that came before you.  One of the print shops we really look up to is Rohner Letterpress, here in Chicago.

The story of Rohner Letterpress is great and was highlighted recently by a blogpost for Neenah Paper.  They wrote, “In 1957 Bruno Rohner’s father, an apprenticed letterpress printer, and mother emigrated from Switzerland where they set up Rohner Printing in Chicago.  As time marched on, old print technologies gave way to new, and offset printing came to dominate the trade. ‘I remember dinner conversations among my family about the loss of craft in printing,’ says Bruno Rohner. ‘But my father had to stay ahead of the curve so he invested heavily in offset.’”

Heidelberg Printing Press at Rohner

Heidelberg Press at Rohner Letterpress. – photo from Kimberly Fitzsimons

They continue, “In 1997, Bruno told his father that he wanted to start a letterpress print shop. ‘My father was like, “‘You’ve go to be kidding me!’” But after Bruno showed his father some letterpress work of Julie Holcomb Printers he understood. Soon Bruno set up a Heidelberg Windmill in his garage. After three months he quit his day job to become a full time letterpress printer. The son rekindled his father’s passion for letterpress. ‘My dad was totally involved from the beginning. We relied on him. He helped me choose the presses, set them up, keep them running, and train pressmen.’”

It’s really inspiring to hear about a company that has such respect for the “craft in printing”.  At AlphaGraphics Chicago North, we are thankful to have Rohner as a resource to send clients who are looking for quality letterpress printing, embossing, foil stamping, and more that they have to offer.  They recently moved their space from the Ravenswood neighborhood to Humboldt park where they reportedly have cheaper rent.  We are excited to see what the new space and the continued love of the craft will produce in the future.

To see more of the work done at Rohner Letterpress here in Chicago, check out their work here and an online shop with tons of cool letterpress offerings.

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