Big Sky Treasures: Printing press; a process uniquely human


(MTN News – HELENA) Letter by letter and page by page, one Helena man is working on printing a book using machinery that’s commonly seen in museums.

The owner of the Territorial Press in Helena says while operating a printing press can be tedious, the outcome is worth it.

“But there’s something very romantic and nostalgic about printing stuff with hand set type,” explained Aaron Parrett.

The printing press – machinery not commonly seen with most print work done by computers nowadays.

“This machine was basically invented in 1865…1870 and this is what they used, many newspapers used these kind of presses, right up until the 1950s,” said Parrett.

But the English professor has been using the printing press for about three years and is working on a putting together a book of short stories.

The result of this printing method is different than what we get today, “And it’s letter press so what it means is that it actually impresses the letters into the paper.”

“So it really has a feel, ya know that you just can’t get it any other way,” explained Parrett.

But before you can even start pumping out a printed product, “You have to pick out each letter one at a time.”

Then, it’s still not easy. Each letter is put together backwards, resulting in what’s called a form.

“So you have all this wood furniture that holds the form in place,” said Parrett. “We’re going to lock this up. It’s called locking up your form. And then we have to plane the type to make sure it’s all the same height so it prints evenly.”

After inking up the plate and locking in the form. It’s time to start printing.

“The form prints it on the paper and then it re inks the form. It’s pretty ingenious, it’s simple.”

Simple and pretty quick once you get into the rhythm. “But if you’re really going to town on this, you could get at least 300 an hour,” said Parrett. 

Collecting all of these pieces of old machinery took some traveling around the state.

“This came from Helena….these came from White Sulphur Springs.” Parrett even had to leave the state to get one piece. “Ellensburg Washington to get this.”

But the actual press wasn’t too far away. “I found a guy in Black Eagle who had it.”

Page by page and one letter at a time, working towards a goal.

“The ultimate goal here is to create little books of hand set type,” added Parrett.

Little books full of words that become art.

“People call it the book arts. Every book that you make by hand is a work of art.”

Even in the days of the computer revolution, books have a place in our lives.

“There’s something aesthetically irreplaceable about holding an actual book in your hands and the smell of the paper and the smell of the ink,” said Parrett. “The whole package is uniquely human.”


A link to Aaron’s KickStarter Fundraiser page can be found here.


Reporter: Mikenzie Frost