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Great State: Pressed Back Into Service

OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA — Before keyboards and cartridges, before ink jets and now 3-D printing, there were guys like Jimmy Wire mixing their own ink, and applying it cold to Heidleburg rollers on letter-press machines that lasted generations.

“A Heidleburg letterpress is a fine machine,” says longtime printer Wire. “It doesn’t break, ever.”

Jimmy grew up in his dad’s print ship, lulled to sleep as a baby by these same model machines.

“If it’s quiet, I can’t sleep because the crickets bother me,” he chuckles.

There are people who might expect him to work in a museum but Wire is one of a few people left running actual print jobs on them, and in greater demand than ever.

“People think it’s novel,” he says.

Kevin Bennit grew up in a print shop too. He and most of the Bennit family still run Fine Arts Engraving in Oklahoma City and Tulsa.

They have all the new, fast machines that can print huge jobs in a fraction of the time compared to older machines, but they kept a lot of the vintage letter presses and cylinder presses.

“People don’t run them very often anymore,” agrees Kevin. “We run them every day.”

Embossed seals, fancy envelopes; Fine Arts specializes in lots of complicated jobs.

There was a time when Kevin though of phasing out the letter-presses.

But, call it a reaction to color copies and Xerox speed, customers started requesting print jobs they could feel as well as read.

“Oh yeah. It’s had a huge resurgence,” agrees Kevin. “The thing they like about it is you can actually feel the type. It gives it a dimensional feel to it so that when you’re looking at it you can see a shadow where it left an impression on the paper.”

In a world of glowing screens and plastic buttons, Jimmy Wire and a few others, still fill orders from customers who want something a little more permanent, something pressed and measured, documents as lasting as the machines and men who made them.

Fine Arts Engraving has been printing in Oklahoma since 1923.

Most of their old letter and cylinder presses date back to the mid-50’s.


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