Ours was a small job shop. We offered letterpress printing and graphic design and could certainly take on fine printing, but most of the time we produced more workaday jobs for our customers. This was in the early 1980s and so they were broke more often than not. Since we were a soft touch, they got discounts more often than not as well. I think that they got extraordinary value for their money.
Running a job shop meant that all sorts of customers called for appointments or walked in off the street, asked for just about anything under the sun, and we would make it for them. We set type by hand and linotype machine, used linoleum, wood cuts, and metal engravings, printed on just about any surface, die-cut, numbered, blind-embossed, debossed, collated, folded, and scored—you name it. Rarely did we turn a person away and there was no job too small.
At one point we were making most of the environmental movement’s bumper stickers in the Boston area. Save the Whales for Greenpeace and the sticker for the Bottle Bill campaign were probably two of our biggest print runs. But we also did tiny runs of one-of-a-kind stickers for individuals who came in with a wacky idea and wanted to make it a reality.
We printed and consecutively numbered tickets for the fundraisers of just about every progressive and financially-strapped non-profit in the city, from the Mel King election campaign to the Elizabeth Stone House. At the other end of the spectrum we printed and embossed the crimson-tasseled programs and certificates for the commencement ceremony at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.
We worked for the State of Massachusetts as well as NGO’s and private institutions. For a long while one of our steady repeat jobs was printing in heavy black ink on the cloth-bound metal covers of the volumes containing birth, death, marriage, and divorce records for the Registry of Vital Records. I remember going into their cramped, rabbit warren-like premises on pick-ups and deliveries, and one of the staff telling me that hardly anyone had ever visited until the Roots television mini-series in 1977 started a genealogy craze. Now they were being mobbed.
Of course we did stationery and business cards, the bread-and-butter of small print shops. We stocked reams and reams of beautiful bond, laid, wove, and watermarked cotton-rag 20 and 24 lb. stock with matching envelopes, in every shade of white and ivory. And we collected hundreds of tiny type-high engravings for use on one-of-a-kind business cards. We even made an old-fashioned calling card (a visiting card, that is, not a phone card) for the mother of one of our friends.
Weddings, weddings! Weddings were the bane of our existence. There was no other job that demanded more hours of customer contact, and then too, not just one customer, but at least three: the couple and the bride-to-be’s mother. We used to joke that we were thrust into the role of couples counselors as well as design consultants, but in truth there were some tense moments when we witnessed, and sought to smooth over, the love-struck couple’s first fight, or the tension between the groom and his not-yet-mother-in-law. But when the finished product satisfied—nay, delighted—everyone, our job was well done.
Birth announcements followed weddings, as they are wont to do. We rejoiced with the bleary-eyed new parents just as we had smoothed the ruffled feathers of the soon-to-be-wed love-birds.
Come to think of it, as job printers we were a vital part of the community. We weren’t much good at being hard-nosed businessmen but we sure did interact with a lot of people. We were pretty good at that, and enjoyed it into the bargain.