Category Archives: Letterpress Appreciation Day

Sweetness & Light & 918

My sister, Marietta, has been searching for candied cherries, but I don’t think she’s had much luck. They are an ingredient in the fruitcake we make at Christmastime, and in a biscotti recipe handed down to us from an old family friend, Genevieve Marchione. We didn’t make fruitcake last Christmas, but Cummara Jenny’s biscotti have been in high rotation in the family kitchen, and, alas, all the candied cherries in the pantry were used up in the biscotti. But today, Marietta wanted to make teiglach, the Rosh Hashanah delicacy that remind us so much of the struffoli we make at Christmastime, too (and while it’s ok to skip the fruitcake, you can never skip the struffoli). Struffoli and teiglach both begin the same way, as small balls of dough. The struffoli are fried; the teiglach are baked, so they are healthier. Both are covered in honey. The teiglach are mixed with chopped almonds and candied cherries. For Jews at Rosh Hashanah, they represent sweetness for the new year ahead, and Rosh Hashanah this year begins tonight, with the setting sun, and with the sounding of the shofar, a hollowed out ram’s horn, which gives the day another common name: the Feast of Trumpets. The celebration of the new year concludes ten days from now with solemn Yom Kippur; these are the high holidays/holydays of the Jewish calendar.

Micah 7:19 reads, “You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea,” and you may find people at the water’s edge during Rosh Hashanah, casting bread into the sea, each bit of bread carrying some of those sins. And with dinner tonight: a round loaf of challah, round to symbolize the circle of the year (as one year ends, another year begins), and, of course, apples dipped in honey… and, with some luck, teiglach, too. L’shanah Tovah.

Tomorrow, the 19th of September, brings the Feast of San Gennaro, which typically manifests as a huge street festival in New York’s Little Italy. This year, no––just a small, socially distanced celebration is taking place. I imagine there were many times in the Old Country, during times of plague and the Black Death, that the street festival for San Gennaro was canceled, too. San Gennaro is St. Januarius––but even in the United States he is mostly known by his Italian name of Gennaro. He is the patron saint of Naples, Italy, and when so many Napoletani migrated to New York at the turn of the last century, San Gennaro became big there, too. The first celebration of the Feast of San Gennaro on the streets of New York City was on his feast day, September 19, in 1926. It is, typically, Little Italy’s biggest feast, and its longest running.

My mother remembers going to the feast when she was a girl. She went for the music and the food and the cute boys (especially the ones in the bands), but she remembers also the procession with the statue of San Gennaro hoisted up on the shoulders of men. Pious observers would pin dollar bills to the saint’s cloak as he was paraded through the city streets, on his way to the church.

I was at one or two San Gennaro feasts myself, when I was a little boy. What I remember most are lights strung up in the night sky, decorations that spanned from pole to pole above the street, sausages and peppers on crusty Italian bread, music and people all around me, and big balloons filled with sand that a kid like me could punch up and down into the air. The balloon was attached to my wrist with a rubber band. It was the best thing ever to the me that was 6 or 7 years old. Better than the lights, better than the food, better than the mobs of people.

One last thing about today: It’s the 18th day of the 9th month, and here in the States, we write that in numerals as 9/18, and 918 is an important sequence of numbers to us letterpress printers, for .918″ is the height of all the types we use in the printers’ trade: all the metal type, all the wood type, all the images, too, be they linocuts or woodcuts or wood-mounted copper plates––everything we print has to be .918″ tall from the base to the printable surface. And so we celebrate today Letterpress Appreciation Day. A fine celebration of the day would involve watching the virtual online Library Wayzgoose Festival I produced for the Jaffe Center for Book Arts. It features Miami designer and letterpress printer Catalina Rojas, music by the Lubben Brothers, and me, I’m your host. Coming in at just over an hour, it’s an event: you’ll want to make some popcorn and pour yourself a little something: make it a grand time. I’m so proud of it, and honestly, can’t believe how well it turned out. I hope you’ll watch today or tonight or anytime you can.

Beautiful Protective Face Masks from Chiapas

We’re so excited about these new additions to our Convivio by Mail catalog: protective face masks, in all sorts of traditional Mexican embroidered patterns, made for us by an extended artisan family in Chiapas. When their usual source of income––tourism to Mexico––dried up this past spring with the COVID-19 pandemic, things were looking bleak. But the family came up with the idea of devoting their skills toward making masks, and we’re pleased to report that the family are now doing well and they are very busy making masks. They appreciate every order that comes in, and we are so happy to help them get their wares out into the world. Visit our catalog and you’ll find the family’s embroidered masks in floral patterns, as well as other traditional Mexican designs: Calavera (above), Frida Kahlo, Maria Bonita, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Sugar Skull, and Otomi-Inspired patterns. We just received a new shipment from them on Wednesday. Masks are $16.50 each plus Free Domestic Shipping with discount code BESAFE (even if you buy just one). Bonus special when you purchase four masks: we’ll take an additional 20% off and ship your domestic order for free (no discount code necessary for that offer). International orders? Contact us and we will see what we can do for you to make shipping expenses as low as possible:


My apologies for neglecting to click PUBLISH before going to bed last night… the result is subscribers won’t get notification of the post until the wee hours of the morning on September 19. Chalk it up to human error (and this human’s tiredness). Image: Teiglach, as it should look. Purists, you may want to stop reading now, but as it turns out Marietta could not find candied cherries anywhere, so she made this year’s platter of teiglach with chopped dried apricots. Still sweet.



.918 or, You’re Sure to Get Somewhere

Every now and then, out of the blue, I will get a text message at precisely 9:18. Usually in the evening, sometimes in the morning. It’s from my pal Paul Moxon. The message will simply say “918,” or if Paul is feeling particularly precise, it’ll say “9:18.” That’s it.

Paul knows Vandercook printing presses perhaps better than anyone out there these days, and when he writes me at 9:18, I know he is doing so with a wink and a smile, because printers know the significance of those three digits. And today we come to the granddaddy of 918s… it is 9/18, September 18: It is a day each year that letterpress printers hold dearly for it matches beautifully with .918, which is the standard height of type in the US and the UK. And since this blog, odd as it is, is written by a letterpress printer and book artist, it is a day held in high esteem here in this house for sure.

Last week I set a type forme on the 1890 Wesel Iron Handpress from historic wood types at the nearby Jaffe Center for Book Arts, and the print shop at the center will be open today welcoming anyone who would like to come print it. The message is adapted from some good advice delivered by the Cheshire Cat in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, which is one book featured in JCBA’s current exhibition called Scale: Proportion Play, exploring extremes of scale within the Jaffe Collection (largest book/smallest book, monumental prints/tiny prints, and other pairings along those lines).

So if you’re nearby, come see us at the Jaffe Center’s 9th Annual Letterpress Appreciation Day Open House. I’ll be there all day showing folks how to operate that lovely old printing press, as is my distinct pleasure… and, as usual, Convivio Bookworks is supplying the Italian cookies, too!

Seth Thompson and I are teaching a workshop this Saturday, too, in Downtown Lake Worth at Hatch 1121. It’s called “Calavera Prints” and it’s part of the festivities here leading up to Lake Worth’s annual celebration of Dia de Los Muertos in early November. The workshop is only $25 and it begins at 1 PM. In it, we’ll teach you the basics of linoleum cut printing with the goal of all of us making some festive calavera prints inspired by the historic prints of José Posada. To learn more, visit the Facebook event page, and to register, call (561) 493-2550.

Image: One of the proofs we pulled last week on the Wesel Iron Handpress for this year’s Letterpress Appreciation Day print. The types are all vintage but recent acquisitions. I’m more than a little in love with the the large font that we used to spell GO.

In closing, I learn an awful lot from all of you, too, and it was exactly three years ago today that Convivio Book of Days reader Gene Mahon offered the following commentary about printers and the 18th of September. It’s just the kind of detail I find so fascinating. Gene wrote, “You may be interested to know that here in the UK, 0.918 (of an inch, I believe) was exactly the height of a one shilling piece, an old unit of pre-decimal currency, when stood on edge. So a letterpress printer here, back in the day, would almost always have had, in his/her pocket, an instant means of checking the height of any block or piece of type should there be any doubt. Happy Letterpress Appreciation Day!”


0.918 or, I am a Citizen of the World


It is September 18th, 9/18, and someone somewhere at some point some seven years ago decided this was awfully similar to .918, which is an important number for letterpress printers like me: .918 is the standard height of type. Convivio Bookworks began sponsoring back then a Letterpress Appreciation Day celebration at the Jaffe Center for Book Arts at Florida Atlantic University Libraries, and we’ve done so ever since. This year, we’re supplying the Italian cookies. I also designed the print, and if you’re in the area, you can come print one on the center’s 1890 Wesel iron handpress, which is the same type of press that I first learnt to print on with Glenn House in Alabama, and then with David Wolfe in Portland, Maine.

This year’s print is a famous quote by Charlie Chaplin: I am a citizen of the world. It relates to an exhibition the center is running now about silent films and the novels in pictures by folks like Frans Masereel and Lynd Ward that came about alongside those films… and so there’s been a lot of Charlie Chaplin in my life lately, not to mention Buster Keaton and Mabel Normand and Fatty Arbuckle and Mary Pickford. Here’s something I realized the other day, as I pulled a few proofs: Charlie Chaplin was born in 1889… so when the center’s Wesel iron handpress was built, Mr. Chaplin was but a year old.

We’re printing for this Letterpress Appreciation Day Open House today until 5 PM and again tomorrow, Monday 9/19, from noon to 5 as well. I don’t have a photo of the print here to upload as I type this, but there is one on our Instagram feed! See it there, and follow us while you’re there, too.

P R I N T E R S   R O C K !