The Northwoods Book Art Guild has a history mystery and hopes someone locally can help solve it.
It all started when Ashley Thayer, a member of the art book lovers group, bought a 1910 Golding Pearl No. 3 foot-treadle printing press at the Blue Door Antique shop in Fairbanks. It was being sold as a garden ornament and the shop knew only that it came “from a local gentleman’s shed.”
Thayer dubbed it “Pearl” and another member, Bruce Campbell, set about restoring it to working order. With that accomplished, the club now has some questions: Whose shed was it in? What was its role in our shared history? How did it get to Fairbanks? Who brought it here and why?
According to the guild’s newsletter, “The date, 1910, was cast into the side of the press only eight years after the first riverboat steamed up the Tanana and Chena Rivers to get to the city of Fairbanks in 1902.” What is the rest of the story?
Bruce Campbell began investigating and reached a lot of dead ends. The press was not a part of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, or Advanced Printing, or Graphic North, or The Letter Shop. Nor was it part of the school district print shop, once located in the basement of Mary Siah.
“There were print shops on Fort Wainwright and Eielson,” Campbell said. “But frankly, Pearl, a 7-by-11-inch press, is just too small for a newspaper. And handset type went out at the turn of the century.”
“Pearl wasn’t manufactured until 1910, so she obviously didn’t accompany George Hill when he mushed Fairbanks’ first printing press and type from Dawson, 400 miles down the Yukon, up the Fortymile, and over into the Goodpaster, where he followed (future founder of the air force) Army Lt. Billy Mitchell’s telegraph route to Fairbanks in the winter of 1902/03,” Campbell said.
Pearl is ideal for printing envelopes, announcement, and other high-end letterpress, Campbell added.
Daily News-Miner Publisher Emeritus Chuck Gray suggested that former UAF Journalism professor Jimmy Bedford may have owned a press like this in his collection of presses. But according to Campbell, he hasn’t found anyone who knows what was in Bedford’s shed.
Meanwhile, Pearl has been restored by Campbell and is fully operational. Pearl is used in the Northwoods Book Arts Guild letterpress classes and art book printing programs.
“She runs perfectly,” Campbell said.
But knowing where the printing press came from would “add to the joy of using it,” he said.
Apparently, the larger letterpress community, from other states, has been supportive of the restoration process — “especially because using her in classes also conveys the disappearing skills of the printer,” Campbell said.
Pearl has a distinctive heart shaped treadle, so perhaps that will trigger a memory. She is relatively small for a letterpress.
“At 350 pounds, two strong people can move her,” he said.
The Northwoods Book Art Guild is “a community of artists learning about and creating artist books in Fairbanks. The guild promotes all aspects of book arts through education, participation in exhibitions and community outreach.” Members regularly repair books for the Literacy Council of Alaska and offer workshops and lectures on books as art. See more at www.nwbookarts.org.
If anyone has information about Pearl the letterpress, please call Bruce Campbell at 907-322-9221.
Reach columnist/community editor Kris Capps at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @FDNMKris.