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In the mid 1960s I got myself a printing press.

I think I had thoughts of editing and printing a local newspaper, a little more jazzy than the, by then, defunct Shanganagh Valley News.

The machine was an Adana 8x5 letterpress. After I had typeset my first mini-frontpage, I realised that there was no way this machine was going to produce a newspaper.

Every letter and space had to be handset with a tweezers in an 8x5 chase (frame) and the lot held together with quoins.

It was wildly demanding and excruciatingly slow.

After each job, the chase full of type had to be cleaned of all traces of ink and then each letter and space returned to its pigeon hole in the type tray for that font. After each session, the ink plate and rollers had to be thoroughly cleaned.

For multicolour jobs, a separate printing had to be done for each colour and the type, rollers and inkplate had to be thoroughly cleaned between each printing.

Whatever about handling large typefaces, such as those for headlines, the idea of typesetting even a paragraph in 12 point type by this method was mindblowing.

So I abandoned the newspaper and turned my attention to notepaper and visiting/business cards where the actual amount of typesetting required was limited.

As I got the hang of it, I expanded into tickets for functions and club membership cards.

I also did memorial cards which also only required limited typesetting and the stock (holy pictures) could be purchased in quantity from Veritas. At this end of the business I was in competition with Lalors of Abbey Street, who are still on the go long after the demise of my operation. One of the things I learned in the course of this part of the operation was how to get the biggest spiritual return for the minimum of typesetting, a subject I discuss here. At the other end of the life spectrum, I also did baptism certificates for Meath St. Catholic Church in Dublin, where I happened to know the curate.

One Christmas, I even went as far as having plates made of a design by my cousin Carmel for a Christmas card . The cards were then made up in packs and sold through my mother's shop in Ballybrack. The theme was "pacem in terris", the opening words of one of Pope John XXIII's encyclicals.

Surprising as it may sound, I had a competitive advantage in the quality aspect of the work. The volume of work going through a commercial (letterpress) printer inevitably wore down the reusable typeface over time and their jobs tended to get a bit fluffy around the edges. I had all new type and a very low throughput so the quality of the print was, on average, superior to that of the commercial printers.

The customer actually got a very good deal on two fronts. Firstly, superior quality and secondly, reasonable price. I was not really commercially minded and regarded the printing as a bit of a hobby, so customers were effectively charged only for the cost of materials, with a slight, if any, addition for labour.

On my 21st birthday my Uncle Pat asked me what I wanted as a present. I said I would like a font for my printing press. Fonts were relatively expensive at the time and I could not afford an additional one. Uncle Pat said "Certainly, I'll get you that, but what would you like as a real present?" Believe you me, the font was a real present; it was a very nice font and I used it for notepaper, personal cards and everything else I could get away with.

I also had the idea that my printing works would look good on my CV, with me as the managing director! So I applied to have the name "Vale Printers" registered as a trading name. The "Vale" was the same valley as in the "Shanganagh Valley News". However, I hadn't bargained for "joined up government" and promptly got a tax demand from the Revenue Commissioners. I wrote back, explaining that I was a student, that the printing was effectively a hobby, that I was not actually making money, and that I really only registered the name for CV purposes. Thankfully I heard no more on the matter.

There is a good background material here.

Hover the cursor over the press to see the action required to produce one item.

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