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"Oh, I hope he told you the story of Charles Broad," says Cindy Iverson, a Phoenix-based printer and founder of Letterpress Central in Chandler (where the letterpress gathering will take place this summer).
Iverson has a large type collection of her own that's housed in a warehouse that used to be a preschool that she, her husband, Gary, and printer Mike O'Connor transformed into a giant haven for modern letterpress. There, the Iversons hold classes, print on commission, and create artwork.
Cindy Iverson and Sky Shipley have corresponded with each other for years. And in 2010, Iverson was in awe — along with the rest of the letterpress community — when Shipley announced that he had rescued more than 50 revivals of 19th-century typefaces cast by Broad.
Broad made a name for himself in Phoenix. He was a businessman, who tuned in to the decline of the letterpress and linotype businesses in the 1950s and started re-creating antique type that he knew would be collectible someday.
In Broad's time, letterpress was state of the art in Phoenix. The Phoenix Club of Printing House Craftsmen was founded in the 1920s and was alive and well through the '30s and '40s. During its heyday, the club had hundreds of members who gathered for an annual graphic arts exhibit and celebration of printing. But long after the printing houses went under and the craftsmen dispersed, Broad was one of the last holding onto their metal type and creating more for those who kept the art form alive.
"When my father had his tabletop press at home, he kept correspondence with Broad," says Shipley, sifting through pages of documents and photographs kept neatly in binders in his studio. "He was selling antique typefaces, which were far less popular than they are now. But I remember seeing Broad's specimen sheets and looking at the typefaces. I thought of how wonderful it would be to own . . . They made a big impression on me."
Shipley's father never bought any of Broad's type, but when Shipley was young, he and a few friends began collecting antique typefaces (including a few of Broad's) and making extra money selling them to printers around the country.
Beyond the type he produced, Broad's life isn't well-documented. Shipley still has a few letters that his father and Broad exchanged, and John Risseeuw, a professor of bookmaking and printmaking at Arizona State University, says he tracked down Broad's daughter years ago to talk about his business, but she provided little information. Risseeuw says he wanted to create a book about Broad, printed on a printing press in one of Broad's typefaces. But the project was delayed, and boxes of research and documents are still in boxes in his garage.
In a short Arizona Republic article published in 1964, Broad calls himself "Mr. Antique" and describes his journeys to Japan, where he first had the matrices, or type molds, created. He later purchased a typecaster from Japan and worked out of his garage, producing type for a few local printers. Risseeuw says Broad's friends would send him collections of antique type that they found, and when a letter was missing, Broad commissioned his next-door neighbor, who was a type designer, to help him re-create the letter to complete the set.
Before moving to Phoenix, Broad had been a monotype operator in Chicago who, like Shipley, retired and moved west and, like Shipley, soon found that his hobby was a full-time job. Broad's business was booming, but like all devotees to a dying art, he worried about the future of letterpress and who would care for his collection after he died.
From the Republic story: "A fleeting sadness touches Broad, now 65, when he thinks now and then about who'll carry on the business. He's found no one willing to stick with the job."
Every first and third Friday of the month, Nancy Hill opens the French doors of her letterpress studio in downtown Phoenix and puts on a show. She recently retired from a corporate office job and took on letterpress printing full time.
Hill's shop is flooded with light from huge paned windows. She works on wedding invitations, greeting cards, and special orders. Last summer, she printed hundreds of square coasters to celebrate her A/C unit, which wasn't quite cutting it on a Friday afternoon — each read "Hot as HELL."
She has a wicked sense of humor (often needed to survive both Phoenix summers and employment in an antique industry), and she loves to talk about letterpress. Hill knows the local scene is growing. She's one of a handful of local printers, including Risseeuw, Lindsay Tingstrom (who currently operates solo after the split of letterpress trio SeeSawDesigns), Brent Bond and Mark McDowell at Cattle Track, Karla Elling of Mummy Mountain Press, and Linda Smith of Picnic Press.
Like many printers, Hill hosts printing classes on weekends and visits Cindy Iverson at Letterpress Central. And she really wants to check out Shipley's studio.
"I keep meaning to get up there and visit," she says. "He's incredible."
Sky Shipley's Thompson typecaster hums as lead, antimony, and tin combine to make the ideal metal alloy for type. The mixture is piped into chambers, where it's pressed against a mold, cooled, released from the chamber, and pushed out in the shape of a rectangular prism with a single letter popping out of one end.
Claire, A great article on a very interesting part of Arizona's history. Letterpress printing is a jewel. Rather than destroying our youth in the school-to-prison pipeline, they could be learning fine-printing skills, among related vocational training.