MWE news

State of Mind: June, ’21

I’ve been selling jukebox lettering kits for more than a year now, and Midwest Ephemera LLC has been an official entity for a few months. Seems like a good time to post an update, as an excuse to collect my thoughts, see where everything stands, and have a record for posterity. It may also help as notes for the annual report I need to file every year.

MWE P/N 0003, a birthday gift for Tracie

As far as the jukebox lettering goes, we now have four products that cover about a dozen jukebox models. Sales are consistent but slow, which is fine, we knew this wasn’t a growth market, but it’s nice seeing orders come in as people find us, and customers seem very happy with the product. Word of mouth really helps. It’s tempting to do a bit of advertising to see if that works, but at least I’m confident that anyone looking for jukebox lettering will find us. Interestingly, now that my products are out there, a few collectors have started listing NOS lettering on eBay, but I imagine that their supply will dry up quickly, and our kits are more practical for a hobbyist.

Matt’s new Vandercook 3

Big-picture-wise, I’m still not exactly sure where Midwest Ephemera will take me. I’ve been working at Field Notes/Coudal Partners for 23 years and don’t have any specific intention to leave. The jukebox lettering is (mostly) funding acquisition of letterpress equipment, and I’m taking time to learn the ropes of typesetting and printing. I’ve printed a few small projects, but most of my time at the shop (increasingly limited, I’m back in the office full-time now) has been dedicated to cleaning/fixing/organizing the three batches of equipment my shopmate Matt and I have acquired this year. (Matt is starting a separate company, “C’mon Home,” we’re sharing space and equipment) Here’s an inventory of our three big hauls:

  1. Chandler and Price 10×15 platen press, several chases, three motors, two homemade cabinets with about 40 cases/fonts, about 80 pounds of ink, assorted accessories, tools, spacing, chemicals, numbering machines, paper cutter, GBC binder, slug cutter, scale, composing stone. (March 6 & 13, Morris, IL)
  2. Cabinet with 150 galleys, lots of leading, perf, and quads, lots of random cuts and type, Two cabinets with 40 cases/fonts, brass spacing case, speed quoins (May 19, Berwyn, IL)
  3. Vandercook 3 Proofing Press and accessories, cabinet with 20 cases/fonts, several more unsorted fonts, several books, reglet and furniture cases (June 18, Evansville, IN)
Rebuilding frame of termite-damaged type cabinet… turns out I’m a woodworker now, too!

On top of that, we’ve bought/found/stolen pretty much everything else we need to get going. The C&P is up and running just fine, but the Vandercook (which is technically Matt’s, but graciously at my disposal) needs some reassembly and adjustment. I’ve cleaned the insects and mouse nests out of everything. I’ve patched up the the termite damage, and re-sorted and cleaned most of the type. I made draw-downs and labeled and sorted the ink, cleaned and oiled the speed quoins… I’m sure I could busy myself doing anything but printing for years to come!

Chase locked up in the C&P with business cards for a friend…

So, again, things are close to being ready, the real issue now is organizing the space, packing away type we’re unlikely to use, clearly labeling the rest, getting spacing, quads, reglets, and furniture organized… that’s the current priority. We need to be able to find what we need quickly as we work, and move around the space efficiently. As we figure all that out, I’ll sneak in some small fun projects for practice.

I know nothing’s ever perfect and we’ll never finish setting up, there will always be more to do, but I hope to have the shop looking and feeling more organized in a few weeks then I can start taking a few simple “real” jobs, and move forward on the Midwest Ephemera retail projects I have in mind.

Poster by my friend/teacher Erin Beckloff, which would imply that maybe I’m a printer now?

In summary, there’s work to do before we really get to work, but we’re getting there, and it’s pleasing to find that the bugs are all working out, and maybe I do know what I’m doing, or at least I know where to find the instructions. There’s always more to learn. It’s been exciting and rewarding so far and I look forward to whatever this turns into.