Hot-lead letterpress lives.
Within hours of learning that the Kendrick Gazette had published its final edition, old-fashioned letterpress hobbyists were using a newfangled Internet newsgroup to lament the demise of the newspaper, which was sold to a competitor.
The news was posted via mass e-mail to Letterpress Discussion Group subscribers and soon was widely acknowledged as nothing less than heartbreaking. "The last newspaper in Idaho using hot metal to make type" was the description given the paper in an Associated Press July 14 dispatch.
The last hot-metal edition went to press July 9. As its former owner, William A. Roth, told the wire service, the Gazette had been one of only three papers west of the Mississippi River that had not converted to offset printing on litho plates made from "cold type."
Hot-metal enthusiasts, many of whom operate handset presses for fun and occasional profit in their homes, immediately wondered where the other two papers could be found.
Not at all certain what an electronic bulletin board is, Roth announced - largely through an e-mail newsgroup subscriber - that because of popular demand, he had made a reprint of his final hotmetal edition. "I still had the forms on the press, so I printed another 200 or so, he said in a telephone interview.
Roth sold the Gazette name and subscriber list to a new weekly in Potlatch, which, like Kendrick, is in the southern end of the Idaho panhandle, near the Washington-Oregon border.
Still a job printer after giving up his newspaper for health reasons, Roth took some time off to assist in tracking down remaining hot-metal newspapers.
"There were four of us until about a month ago," he said, citing the Spa/ding (Neb.) Enterprise and Saguache (Colo.) Crescent, both weeklies, and the Sherman County (Ore.) Journal, a former weekly that is still based in the town of Moro.
The Journal circulates approximately 1,300 copies, according to Nathan Bartlett, the son of its publisher and job printer Dan Bartlett.
"I used to exchange papers with the Journal," Roth recalled, "but publication of it is not steady." And the Nebraska paper, he said, converted to offset printing early this summer.
in Colorado, the four-page Crescent is hand set by Marie Coombs and her son, Dean. Marie has been around what used to be her parents' paper for nearly 80 years.
Coombs and the Crescent have been profiled periodically by larger news outlets, notably by the late Charles Kurault on CBS and most recently by the Denver Post. A letterpress newsgroup subscriber well east of the Mississippi got hold of that March 19 Post story and cheerfully distributes it through the conventional, if slow, U.S. Postal Service.
In Orange County, Calif., 2,600 to 4,000 copies of the Westminster Herald are printed weekly from hot-metal type. The two-section, 16-page paper was started by the brother of its current owner and editor, Lloyd Thomas - who has been with the Herald for more than 50 years.
Former Kendrick publisher Roth was aware of another hot-metal paper out west, albeit outside the United States. Contributors to the electronic bulletin board swiftly helped pinpoint the Reviewer, published in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, a city of 35,000 about 44 miles west of Regina.
"Yes, the paper is produced the oldfashioned' way," editor and publisher Laurence Pion responded via e-mail.
"I use a Miehle flatbed two-revolution cylinder press (circa 1898) to produce 1,000 to 5,000 copies] of a six eight-page monthly newspaper. The variance is caused by the stiffness of advertiser spine - or lack thereof." Pion sets the paper on Intertype and Ludlow machines. He manually feeds newsprint to the press, where it is "printed one side of the sheet at a time," then hand collates pages and hand folds copies.
Another old-fashioned notion that Pion is proud of: "The paper has been annoying the self-anointed 'power people' in this town for some six years.
Also on the bulletin board came word of one hot-metal publication east of the Mississippi. Smack in the middle of Illinois, just 12 miles from the capital, Glenn W. Luttrell publishes the weekly Edinburg Herald Star. Assisting him as writer, proofreader and bookkeeper is his wife, Margaret.
"Hot metal? That's right," Luttrell said. "I'm still printing on a Goss Duplex webfed flatbed press."
Like Pion's operation in Moose Jaw, the Herald Star uses a Ludlow machine and an Intertype a C-4 model to be farflung outpostsexact. By the standards of the Linotype, the mechanical linecaster that revolutionized printing more than a century ago, Luttrell's Intertype model is not that old. "It's probably from the early 1950s," he said. "I bought it rebuilt from an outfit in Goodlettsville, Tenn., six years ago."
(He knew of only one other hot-metal newspaper -- "somewhere in Michigan." That paper, the weekly Fremont Times-Indicator converted to offset after a fire several years ago.)
Luttrell doesn't own a computer, enjoys a good relationship with his main print competitor, the daily Taylorville Breeze-Courier, and has no plans to retire, either himself or his press.
Like the hobbyists who keep alive the spirit and often the practice and actual products of letterpress, Luttrell says, "I enjoy what I do, and I just keep doing it."