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Lasting impression

12:41 PM  Oct 1st, 2012
by Rachel Sebastian ’13

They say the story is found between the lines. But sometimes the story is laid out before the letters even hit the paper.

For those using a letterpress system, setting out the letters is only the beginning of a process that’s stamped in their memories forever.

In a dark corner of College Park Center, an obscure contraption called a platen press sits, tucked behind rows of computers. Although the piece seems out of place, it isn’t completely alone — it’s neighbored by a California Job Case, which contains drawer after drawer of type featuring individual letters, numbers and images of the University’s logo and presidential seal.

And while the letterpress system sits in the shadows of digital print, a few remember a time when it had a very active presence on campus.

Brother Joe Mariscalco, S.M. ’62, who now lives at Mount Saint John in Beavercreek, Ohio, operated the letterpress system until 1998. With a master’s in printing technology, he put his degree to use for 44 years.

“I haven’t seen one of those [presses] in a long time,” he chuckled. His retirement marked the end of the press’s use on campus.

Brother Joe Barrish, S.M. ’50, noted the great level of skill required in this intricate process that would set the foundation for later methods of printing. Whether it was for stationery, a brochure or a flyer, the process began
by organizing the designated type — one letter at a time.

Laid out backward in preparation for the transfer of ink to paper, the type was set into a heavy steel frame called a chase. Squared and locked up, it would then go into the press. But it wasn’t an automatic finish. Mariscalco would then pull down a lever that would lock the chase into place and work with the press’s distinct rhythm as he placed the paper in and pulled the paper out. And once you had put in the paper, “get your hand out right away . . . it’s going to print whether you’ve got paper or not,” said Mariscalco.

His hands were lucky enough to escape the press, but he still couldn’t avoid the very noticeable ink-stained fingers. Thinking back, Mariscalco, now 84, said he probably should’ve worn gloves.

The ink stains on Mariscalco’s fingers faded away years ago, but the memory of the letterpress made a lasting impression.

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