Making a Record

Our friends know that Bedell family holiday cards are irregular and often late, but worth the wait. Here’s the very long story of this year’s cards…

I’ve always wanted to make a record, but I’m not a musician. I’m a graphic designer.

Mingering Mike's cardboard record

Several years ago, I came across a book about Mingering Mike, a young Washington, D.C. man who released more than 50 soul and funk records in the ’60s and ’70s. All of them were devoid of actual music. They were made of cardboard, tape, paint, and magic marker. That book put the idea of a cardboard record in my head.

Later, as the pandemic started, three other events brought the idea back to light:

Matt's gift card
  • First, I fixed my friend Matt Jorgensen’s turntable, and he made me a thank-you card with a paper 45rpm record in a sleeve made  from a cut-up screen-printed poster .
  • Second, I got our old Seeburg LPC-1 jukebox running again, and started making reproduction lettering. This led to a deep dive into my singles collection, AND a taste to expand my tiny side hustle.
  • Third, in the past few years, Matt and I have befriended a wonderful community of letterpress printers. In January, he convinced me to chip in to buy a vintage printing press. Since then, I’ve been at the shop tinkering and printing every chance I get.

In March, I officially established “Midwest Ephemera” as a legal entity. With an LLC and a printing press at my disposal, it seemed like prime time to pursue the record idea.

Making an ersatz record out of paper seemed like such an obvious idea, but I couldn’t find anyone doing it the way I pictured it. Once I started sourcing the various materials and doing the math, it became clear why: considering the variety of materials and processes involved, they were going to be roughly the cost of an actual record. That didn’t include design, typesetting, printing, cleanup, and assembly time.

But I was obsessed, I had to make it happen. Months of testing and scheming — and racking the brains of letterpress friends, (especially Bob at Skylab Letterpress) — followed. I knew it was possible, I just needed to learn how to do it. After a few tests, it became clear I couldn’t get realistic deep ‘grooves’ with polymer plates, so I enlisted Doyle and Paul at Devco, a die-cutter and foil-stamper in my neighborhood. They bought into my excitement, and with their help, I designed and ordered a (far more expensive) deep-cut copper die and we came up with a more efficient plan: They would deboss and die-cut the records and labels for me to print and assemble. This added even more expense, but my experience and machinery were no match for theirs, and it would save me many hours of work.

Keep in mind, I’m using mid-1800s technology, hand-feeding each sheet, once for each color and side, and the typesetting is done with tiny individual pieces of lead type. It’s all very time consuming, so their help made the rest possible. As Devco got to work on the “records,” I did everything else:

  • I printed 30 10-up sheets of jukebox title strips in red.
  • I locked-up perforating rule and perforated the title strips
  • I hand-typeset five title strips in 12-pt Airport Gothic and 8pt Bernard Gothic with 6-pt stars.
  • I hand-typeset the return address for the back of the envelopes
  • I hand-typeset the text for the sleeves
  • I set up the press with gold ink and printed the gold on 126 labels.
  • Then I printed the gold return address on 126 envelopes.
  • I washed up, re-inked with dark green, and printed 126 sleeves.
  • Then I printed the green over the gold on the 126 labels.
  • Then I printed the 5-up text on one column of the 30 title strips.
  • Then I printed it again on the other column. (faster to run 5-up twice through the press than to typeset all that small text 10x!)
  • Then I washed up the press again, distributed all the type back into its cases, and cleaned up the shop..

At that point, I felt like I was mostly finished, but there was still plenty of work to do…

  • I’d designed a complicated alignment jig to neatly attach the labels to the records, but Tracie suggested using a shot glass, and that worked better.
  • I added sequential numbers with my new tabletop Kelsey press (you’ll note the Kelsey rollers didn’t have enough pressure to ink the numbers, I’m still learning every day).
  • Tracie, M.K., Calvin and I signed all the sleeves.
  • Finally, I laser-printed the delivery addresses on the envelopes, packed everything into the envelopes, and added stamps.
look at those grooves!

Joe from Field Notes dropped them off for me at the Chicago USPS sorting center on Monday the 20th. A few people even got them before Christmas! In the end, they ended up costing about $10 a piece including postage (7.5″ square envelopes!), and again, that doesn’t include the dozens of hours of planning, design, typesetting, printing, and assembly.)

But… it was all worthwhile. I’m really excited about the piece and I couldn’t wait to share it with our friends. If you got one of these 126 invites, I hope you enjoy it, hang it on your tree every year, and think of the good times we’ve had together.

The finished record

All that said,
I have a favor to ask:

This project was great for me to learn and experiment and make a great holiday card, but it was also a (very big) investment in my (very small) printing enterprise.

Now that the dies are made and I’ve found some efficiencies that make them more practical, I want to make more of these. I have lots of ideas for options and enhancements (OMG look at these new foil-stamped prototypes!). They’d work great for wedding invitations, record store gift certificates, party invites, birth announcements, greeting cards, or rock show souvenirs. I can also print custom 7” sleeves for DJs or record collectors. I can print jukebox title strips to be used as business cards or digital download cards. Heck, I can do any of this stuff for ACTUAL bands or labels, I already have an LP project lined up for a great band, and I’d love to do more of that. And of course I can design and/or print anything else you might need. Please keep Midwest Ephemera in mind, and refer us to your friends!

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