Owen County News-Herald       
Vol.136  No.46      Nov 12, 2003

Patience is a virtue

for Zeitz's over 30-year hand press operation

By Lorie Love                
Landmark News Service

Just outside Monterey, Kentucky, there is a business unaffected by today’s hurried life. The words “rush order” or “deadline” do not have meaning there. Plenty of work gets done, but the name of the game is patience.

For 30 years, Gray Zeitz has operated the Larkspur Press, a letter press printing shop where movable type is set by hand. The press, which has replaceable metal letters, was invented by Johannes Gutenburg in 1436 and remained the standard until the 20th century. Today’s modern printing presses were developed based on Gutenburg’s printing machine.

“Gutenburg developed a way of casting type, and that started the whole revolution,” Zeitz said. “This part of our shop is not too far removed from Gutenburg’s press.”

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 Zeitz, who prints work for many Kentucky authors, poets and other publishers, said it may take longer to print using the movable type method — it takes approximately two years to print a book — but the quality is incomparable, he said.

 “There’s a lot of hand work involved, and the books look nice,” he said. “The quality is the difference. When you set our books up beside a quickly-printed book, you can see the difference. A lot of authors tell me they can see the difference.”

 Zeitz, and two employees — Leslie Shane and Carolyn Whitesel — are currently [2003] working on two books and are preparing to begin a third one. They use a rigorous proofreading system and are almost two years behind on each book, Zeitz said. They use a Chandler and Price hand-fed press for the books. They also print business cards, wedding invitations and other small jobs. 

“We’re quite busy right now,” Zeitz said. “This time of year we actually get work in that has a deadline, like wedding invitations.”

Zeitz got his start in the letter press craft while a student at the University of Kentucky. He was studying English and history at the Lexington school when he met Carolyn Homer, a special collections librarian. He was invited to apprentice with Homer at King Library Press. For two years he learned the craft alongside Homer before opening his own press.

Named after Zeitz’s favorite early-spring wildflower, which was blooming as he was trying to think of a name for his business, Larkspur Press has provided almost his entire income for 30 years. Besides brief stints working in tobacco, the press has been his sole income. Both of his children have tried their hand at the letter press, but “are doing other things now.”

Working the press is not for everyone, he said. It requires patience and a love for the craft.

“I like everything about it,” Zeitz said.

Among the authors he has printed for are Steve Sanfield, Richard Taylor, Dianne Aprile and Mary Lou Hess, Cranston Stroup, Jeff Worley, Wendell Berry, Logan English, James Baker Hall, Patrick Hart, Ed McClanahan, Barry Magid, Bobbie Ann Mason, Maureen Morehead and Susan Richards.

In addition to his presswork, Zeitz also provides educational programs at his shop. He just recently hosted a wood engraving class with instructor Wesley Bates. Thirteen students participated. Each year he also holds a two-day book binding workshop, where students learn to make decorative papers and learn how to sew signatures and case bindings and make restricted binding.

For more information about Zeitz’ work, call him at (502) 484-5390.