Making It: Sassy Stationery From Letterpress Jess

Maker: Jess Bennett       
Business:
Letterpress Jess

What made you decide to start your business, Letterpress Jess?

I'm a graphic designer by trade, and have always been a big proponent of the local art scene and of art in general. And, you know, everything that I do for the most part is digital on the computer, which is not maybe considered super-traditional fine art. So I've always wanted to be part of the arts world, you know, versus the commercial graphic design world that I'm in by day. And so I started looking into printmaking as a way to take what I do on the computer and translate it into more of a fine art practice, and that’s when I started looking at letterpress. And it’s a tale as old as time, just a girl falling in love with a 2,500-pound printing press, as one does.

Jess Bennett poses with "Big Sal," a 12x18 Chandler & Price printing press, manufactured in Cleveland, OH in 1963. [Jess Bennett]

Would you introduce us to your printing press family?

So we have Big Sal, which is our original press and our main press, and the one that we use every single day. She is a Chandler & Price letterpress printing press, 12x18, manufactured in Cleveland in 1963. But the technology, the actual model dates back to the 1880s and didn't change too terribly much. We also have who we call Lil Die, who is the second press that we acquired. And she is also a Chandler & Price, also a platen press, but she's 10x15, so one model size down and she is not motorized and dates closer to the turn of the last century. And then we have Long Limbs Lenore, who is a Challenge Proof Press.

Big Sal handles most of the work at Letterpress Jess. [Jess Bennett]

Describe the printing process. And how do you make prints with multiple colors?

Every single card is fed into the press one at a time and one color at a time. So anytime you see multiple colors on a card, it means it was handled through the press that many times, which can become, you know, arduous at a certain point. So we print, say the yellow, then we clean the press. We put a new form on the press. We put new ink on the press. We test it out. We make sure that the impression is even. We make sure that the color consistency is even, and make sure that the registration is right. And then we print the cards all over again. It's a lot of fun, but there's a reason it's the old-fashioned way.

Prints with more than one color are run through the press multiple times. [Jess Bennett]

What are some of your hopes for the future of your company? 

We have worked really hard, pandemic aside, to grow our wholesale business. It's exciting to have not just customers choose your products for themselves, but to have shop owners who have a vested interest in choosing only the best, only the things that they think will sell the most so that they can keep their businesses afloat. And being part of that small business chain where it's not just Letterpress Jess that we're trying to keep the lights on for, but all of these businesses that are putting their trust in our products, that's an exciting thing. And that's something we've been working to grow.

Now, the hope is that we don't become a household name, because I feel like that's probably not realistic. But the idea that more people in more places can laugh at my cards is the most a girl can hope for. Right now, we are in about 150 stores in 36 states and Canada. So we're slowly getting there to where being in all 50 states would be a secret dream, like a vanity dream. I don't know why, it just seems exciting. Like all 50 states on Letterpress Jess. That would be a milestone that I hope to get to in the next couple of years.

A pair of cards from the "Gibson Girls" line of illustrations. [Jess Bennett]

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