Houghton Library Letterpress Printing Workshops

Each semester, the Houghton Library at Harvard University hosts a series of workshops on letterpress printing. The last one for the spring term happens today from 3 to 5 p.m.

Participants (Harvard affiliates only) experience just how printing got done from the fifteenth century until hot metal typesetting in the nineteenth century rendered movable type commercially obsolete.


Each two-hour session, hosted by Houghton's printing and graphic arts curator Hope Mayo, explores the history and technology of letterpress printing followed by opportunities to set type into the iron handpress and produce a memento of the visit.

Harvard University has employed a printing press since 1638, when the Reverend Joseph Glover had his personal machine and locksmith-turned-printmaster Stephen Daye shipped from England. Daye would eventually print The Bay Psalm Bible in 1640, the first piece of printing to appear in North America. Though an estimated 1,700 copies of Daye's work were printed, only 11 survive today.

The Houghton Printing Room, meanwhile, took shape in 1938 at the direction of Philip Hofer, the founder of Harvard's Printing and Graphic Arts Collection, who set up the handpress, type, and other equipment in the basement of Lamont Library so that students could understand the mechanics behind printing books like The Bay Psalm.

Today's session is full, but the fall semester will bring with it another opportunity to ink up.