|At Odds with the World
2012 by Dale Fehringer
The highest-tech solution isn't always the best, as this author recently
still at odds with the world …We employ two typewriters, some 3x5
card files, a stack of pencils and pens, and some carbon forms …
Even the building we work in was built by us. Nail by nail, board by
board, all by ourselves. Call us stubborn, antiques, dinosaurs. All
compliments to us.”
can feel the difference when you hold one of their greeting cards in
It has deep, rich colors; a lush texture; and
impressions from the printing press. It feels like a human made it,
and it has value.
what Jane and Jim at Saturn Press hope you will feel; it’s what
they are trying to achieve.
more than a quarter of a century they have engaged their craft,
designing and printing more than a million high-quality greeting
cards each year, without the conveniences and trappings of modern
technology. Their methods are old-fashioned and
environmentally-friendly. They are quirky, and to some extent at odds
with the world. They are unique.
Press is located
on Swan’s Island, a small, sparsely-populated isle a few miles off
the coast of Maine. It’s a beautiful and tranquil setting. It’s
also remote. The only way to get there is a 30-minute ferry ride
from Bass Harbor on the mainland. The isolation affects every aspect
of life, and for a business like Saturn Press, it means everything
has to be brought to the island by ferry and taken out that way, too.
is off the beaten path, nestled in a grove of trees, surrounded by a
neatly-manicured garden with beds of ferns and irises. An array of
windows on both floors of the two-story building bathes the interior
in natural light, which makes it feel bright and cheerful.
greets you at the door and offers a tour of the 5,000 square-foot
building, which consists of a small display area where cards can be
purchased, an office, a press room, and a small shipping area.
Upstairs, Jane commands a design room, where next year’s holiday
cards are in various stages of production.
Press was founded in 1986 by Jane Goodrich and James vanPernis (they
refer to themselves as Grandma and Grandpa Letterpress). For the
first few years they designed and printed their cards in Jane’s
garage; then in 1996 they moved to the Arts and Crafts style building
they designed and built.
is the design, marketing, and customer service departments, and Jim
makes up maintenance and production. They are artists and
craftspeople and they are fulfilled, but they are also modest. When
asked if he is proud of what he does, Jim simply replied, “It suits
are no computers. Instead, they operate their business with
telephones, two typewriters (one a manual typewriter from the 1940s),
and a fax machine. That’s part of their quirkiness, and when you
think about it, it’s remarkable.
Beautiful Greeting Cards
creates the cards by searching through her collection of “ephemera,”
or images that were once used in ads
or greeting cards. When she finds a suitable image, she creates her
own version of it by hand; first sketching an outline and then adding
color and a message. .
cards are beautiful and they evoke a simpler time. The images are
striking, yet unpretentious, and the messages are straight forward.
you obey all the rules you miss all the fun,” a card proclaims,
quoting Katharine Hepburn. The image shows a woman sitting on a
beach in a sleeveless blouse, sun hat, and long skirt, enjoying the
designs a catalog to display the cards and groups them in categories
like “well said,” “the wisdom of women,” and “animal
parade.” The cards are sold in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New
Zealand, the U.K., and Japan. Orders are generated through the
catalog, at trade shows, and by a handful of contract sales people.
are filled by hand, often packed into re-cycled boxes or envelops,
and hauled out to the post office, where they are delivered by ferry
to the mainland, where they are distributed and sold. Their largest
customers are the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, Whole Foods
Supermarkets in the U.S., and upscale greeting card stores.
with Skill and Patience
Press's greeting cards are printed on four antique printing presses.
Their first press was built in Chicago in 1932. Jim and
Jane bought it in 1985 (for $800) and moved it in a rental truck (and
ferry) to Swan's Island. It still runs today, powered by its
original eighty-year-old electric motor. Jim says the only care
it requires is a few drops of oil and some tender loving care. It
is joined by three other antique printing presses that Jim and Jane
acquired over the years, and today the four presses stand
side-by-side in the small printing room at Saturn Press. In
their day, all four presses (Heidelberg and Miehle) were the finest
of their kind.
Jim receives a card proof from Jane, he selects and sets the type by
hand and lines it up in a frame. He has accumulated a good-sized
collection of lead type over the years from printers, who basically
discarded it, and even from a monastery in Illinois.
mixes printing ink by hand, stirring together colors until the blend
is exactly the right shade.
he starts printing by loading card stock on one of the antique
presses and starting the press. A metal arm picks up a sheet of
paper and places it on the printing bed, where it is pressed by the
inked type. The arm moves it aside and puts another in its
place. On it goes, one card at a time, and the room is filled
with the rhythm of mechanical clacks and thumps.
process is repeated and each card passes through the printing press
as many times as there are colors on it, so Jim often prints the
cards several times. It's a slow, tedious process that requires
an infinite amount of patience.
Mean to be Green
business is environmentally-friendly, although they say they “didn’t
mean to be green.” Isolation and hardship forced them to adopt
efficient methods a long time ago, and it’s now a natural part of
the way they do business.
don’t discard equipment, so there’s no scrap or electronic
waste. Their antique printing presses don’t use chemicals, and
they go through less than one gallon of cleaning solvents per year.
electricity rates on Swan’s Island are high, so Jane and Jim
minimize their electricity usage. They don’t have air
conditioning, for example, or computers, and their building was
designed to allow natural light. As a result, they use
approximately the same amount of electricity as an average American
paper is recycled and made to order for them, so there is little
waste to discard.
“green” has helped them contain their costs, and it also makes
their business more predictable. An example: In 1999 their largest
customer (Barnes and Noble) sent them an affidavit to sign and return
stating there would be no problems filling orders associated with
Y2K. Saturn Press was the only vendor to sign and return the form. No computers, no problems.
pick-up is not available and they “hate making the trip to the
town dump,” so they have winnowed their total garbage output to
two garbage cans, once a month. That’s less than the average
to the World
refreshing to know that an old-fashioned and environmentally-friendly
business can still exist in today's high-pressure,
instant-communication world. Saturn Press is one that has
survived for more than a quarter century, and the owners, who refer
to themselves as Grandma and Grandpa Letterpress, are determined and
somewhat eccentric artists who use ingenuity, craftsmanship, and
old-fashioned technology to produce beautiful, high-quality greeting
cards in a "green" manner.
and Jane like to say they are at odds with the world. Maybe
they are. But they also add to the world by creating
beautiful images and words that help people share their sentiments
with each other. And it seems to me that in many ways
their methods of doing things make a whole lot of sense.
in the subject
line of the message.)
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