Pressing on

Silver Buckle Press honors the history of letterpress printing

In a small, sunny room on the edge of Memorial Library, Tracy Honn keeps alive an important piece of history.

She’s director of Silver Buckle Press, a working museum at UW–Madison that uses tours, exhibitions, publications and other programming to preserve the craft of letterpress printing.

Silver Buckle’s collection of wood and metal type, presses, printing equipment and books represents how printing was done, from the fifteenth century when Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type to the nineteenth century when industrialization changed the process again.

Today, most printing is digitized but applications for letterpress have always existed. “It never totally went away,” Honn says.

And lately there’s been a resurgence in interest over the historic printing form, partly due to the handmade or do-it-yourself movement but also thanks to Martha Stewart, who famously encourages brides to get hand-set wedding invitations.

“There’s so much interest that couldn’t be anticipated,” Honn says.

This renewed appreciation is explored in Typeface, a film about the Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum in Two Rivers, which will be screened this month at the Wisconsin Film Festival. Honn and staff at Hamilton are planning a number of programs around the film.

Once you learn about typeface and letterpress, you notice it everywhere. Adds Honn: “Anyone who uses a computer has a typeface they work with—and they know it by name.”

For more information on Silver Buckle Press, visit silverbucklepress.library.wisc.edu.

Katie Vaughn is associate editor of Madison Magazine.

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