Midwest Ephemera just started its third year as an official Illinois business entity, so it seems like a good time for an update.
Things are good! For the time being, MWE remains a “side hustle” but that was the plan all along, to grow it slowly as we accumulate experience and equipment. We’re not printing as much as we’d like, but our time on press is limited only by our schedule, not by any lack of excitement, ideas, or opportunity. We’re proud of the work we’ve done in the last few months, and we’ve got lots of great projects lined up, both for ourselves and for clients. Sure, the dream is to take this to some sort of “next level” eventually, but for now we’re enjoying a comfortable ride, on our own terms.
One exciting bit of news: After 18 months of paperwork and waiting, our trademark application for the Spinvite™ name has been approved. A bit of bureaucracy remains to make it official, but the name has been cleared by the USPTO for our record-shaped invitations, gift cards, and gift certificates. We’d love to make more Spinvites™ for (with!) you.
In other great news, our shopmate C’mon Home’s Vandercook 3 proof press is up and running, so we’re getting the hang of that, and excited about doing larger-format work as we continue our search for usable/affordable wood type. And our devil/apprentice M.K. is doing amazing illustration and linocut work, they’re going to be running this place before long.
Keep us in mind for any projects, and remember we’re happy to work on- or off-press. Aside from letterpress printing, we do graphic design, photography, illustration, typesetting, production, print brokering, and pretty much anything related to the graphic arts. And if we can’t find it, we’ll put you in good hands somewhere else. Thanks for being part of our progress!
As I (Bryan here, speaking in first-person for once, because this is personal) find my feet in the letterpress printing world, I’m looking to build a sustainable, responsible small business that can support my family, but I’m also hoping to build a community and a support network, especially locally here in Chicago.
So the holidays are weird for me, both on a personal and professional level. I’m an atheist anti-capitalist, but I still love Christmas and many of its traditions, especially spending time with family. I really like giving and getting gifts, but I get hung-up on avoiding chain stores and shitty corporations and mass-produced planned-obsolescent proprietary landfill. I end up paralyzed by the whole process.
So here are a bunch of local (or small, family/friend-owned) businesses to support, not only during the holidays, but year-round. When you buy from these folks, know that you’re feeding good people and their families, not providing an unsustainable ROI for investors.
Let me start with my own small business, Midwest Ephemera. I don’t really have much in the way of products, but we’re here for all your printing, design, and photography needs. These are confusing and expensive services, but I love holding your hand and making you part of the process to create something special. Same deal with my shopmate C’mon Home, my success is linked to Matt’s, so don’t feel like you’re going to hurt my feelings if you think he’s a better fit for your project.
I’m sure in writing this monster list, I’ve forgotten many lifelong friends, sorry, please remind me and I’ll add you.
Thriftbooks (online) I sure as f**k wouldn’t be offended if you gifted me a used book (or two) instead of wasting $35 on a new one (See also: records) So cheap. Open Books a great browsable local resource for used (and new) books Quimby’s the Chicago book/zine institution Matter (Denver) the mighty Rick Griffith’s bookstore/giftshop
Again, no problem at all getting a used record as a gift! Orbit Records the new great shop in my neighborhood Oak Park Records the old great shop in my neighborhood Bucket O’ Blood another favorite, run by the nicest people, also books! Jump Up Chuck’s Ska/Reggae online superstore Revolver Records (Pensacola) my old pal Elvis Everybody’s (Cincinnati) made me the man I am today Shake It (Cincinnati) maybe even better than Everybody’s?
Tarnish local shop w/great gifts, esp for women motorcyclists Vespa Club of America store, or a gift membership Lambretta Club USA store, or a gift membership Scoot 66 Tours (L.A.) Vespa Route 66 tours Also: support your local scooter shops and small businesses (Too many to list, ask for specific references based on location/needs!)
Buy used! Thrift stores are pretty picked-over these days and but ask your friends and keep an eye out on the neighborhood swap lists, people have good stuff they don’t use and are often happy to sell it. Look on Etsy and eBay for long-lost souvenirs of childhood or mementos with personal relevance to a friend. Most books, records, CDs, DVDs, video games are available used for a fraction of the price and you’re keeping stuff out of landfills. Have you ever seen how many $3 Crock Pots are stacked up at every thrift store? Who is buying a new Crock Pot?
In the year since we printed the first Spinvite™ we put the whole project on the back burner to complete some other projects (listed here). But we’ve never stopped dreaming about paper records. We have big plans for the Spinvite, and as such, we applied for a trademark towards the beginning of the year. The process is slow, but we recently received a notification from the Trademark Office that everything’s on track and it should be finalized soon. In the meantime, we’ve been doing R&D and saving money to invest into some upgrades that’ll improve the product and bring down the cost and production time.
Our holiday cards used up about a third of our initial batch of blank records and labels, so we’d been looking for an excuse to print more on the existing blanks. Hamilton Woodtype and Printing Museum’s annual “Wayzgoose” conference is our favorite event of the year, with amazing lectures and workshops. One of the highlights of the weekend is a “Print Swap” where attendees trade their prints, usually made specifically for the event. It’s a great way to meet new friends and see what your old friends have been up to. It was obvious… a Wayzgoose Spinvite! What better way to show off our growing skills and capabilities?
We set to work… this time out, we used all hand-set type, printing three colors on the label, two colors on the jukebox tags, and one color on the sleeve. It took about two and a half full workdays to typeset, print, and assemble 120 pieces. Once again, the glossy labels were the hardest part to print. When we print more blanks, we’re going to switch to uncoated stock which will make them easier to print and offer more color options. We’re also looking at different stock for the records themselves, we have some ideas that will show off the grooves to better effect.
We packed a 1950s record tote full of “records” to swap, and headed off for Two Rivers. The weekend, as always, was wonderful and educational, and our Spinvites were a big hit with the other printers and designers. We came home with a giant stack of wonderful posters and cards that we received in trade.
About a third of the run of the original “blanks” remains, hopefully we’ll find another project or two for those as we develop the next-generation Spinvite over the winter. Please keep us in mind if you need invitations, announcements, gift certificates, awards, anything that could be presented as a 7″ circle. We can of course design and print jukebox tags, custom sleeves for DJs or collectors, business cards, stationery. If there’s any design or printing at all we can help with, please give us a shout! We could even design and print your actual record labels and sleeves.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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!
I last posted a general Midwest Ephemera overview about six months ago, so it seemed like time for an update. Looking back at the past year, Midwest Ephemera has come a long way!
As a quick refresher, I’m an experienced (old!) graphic designer who started producing jukebox lettering kits as a pandemic side business in mid-2020. In early 2021, a friend and I bought a printing press and letterpress printing equipment at an auction, hoping to fulfill a longtime desire to learn the craft. Since then, I’ve spent most of my spare time outfitting and organizing the shop, and getting my hands inky learning to print. In March, I incorporated an LLC, “Midwest Ephemera.” I have a creative and fulfilling full-time job and a very supportive family, so I’ve had the luxury of nights and weekends experimenting in the shop without the pressure of immediate commercial success. But the more I print, the more excited I get about it, and the long-term goal of turning this side-hustle into a self-sufficient business becomes more and more realistic.
To that end, I’ve started doing some commercial work, you can see a list of Midwest Ephemera’s projects here. I’m getting more comfortable with the process and materials, and better at predicting the time and expenses involved. I’m looking for more projects and products, and starting to convert this website from a “Jukebox parts” website to more clearly advertise all our services and sell our retail products to the public.
One particular high point of the year came just before Christmas… the completion of our family holiday cards, which served as a proof-of-concept for a product i’ve been dreaming about nonstop since we bought the press, something that I think will set the course for everything else we do. It was months of work, a lot of learning (with a lot of help from friends) and a huge financial investment, but I was thrilled with the result and I have so many more ideas that center around the general concept… (More on that project here)
All in all, it’s been a very rewarding year, I’ve learned more than I thought possible, created several pieces I’m proud to show off, and I go to bed thankful for all the support I have, and with a head full of plans for the future.
I can’t thank everyone enough… my family, friends, customers, and the dozens of printers that got me excited about letterpress printing and selflessly helped to outfit the shop and teach me the ropes. At my age, life doesn’t change much from year to year so this has been a welcome shake-up, and it’s wonderful to be learning something new everyday.
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.
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.
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:
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)
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)
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)
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!
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.
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.
Our long-in-the-works Seeburg AY Location Display text is now available on ebay, and we have confirmed it’s the same style used for the DS100 and DS160. We have limited stock of the first batch but more is already on the way, if it’s sold out on eBay, check back in a week or so. Thanks again for your support, we’re very excited to make this type available again, and we’re currently developing even more hard-to-find jukebox and record collecting accessories.
Did you know the big Seeburg logo in your AY header was designed to be replaced with lettering? After all, Seeburg isn’t presenting the artist of the week, you are! We tracked down the original lettering and reproduced the text style with painstaking accuracy.
The red color in our first test was close, but not quite perfect, so we’re getting it all dialed in and it’ll be available soon. Thanks to Mike F. (from California) for beta testing it in his AY100! If you do happen to want AY lettering that’s a bit lighter than it should be (maybe your header artwork is a bit faded and you want the type to match!?) we have a couple of these prototype kits available at half price ($25). Otherwise, watch out for our final lettering kits to be available in a couple weeks!
If you’re a former customer, or came across an old post, or saw our packaging for jukebox lettering from “bryanbedell.com/jukebox”, you may be confused about our new name, “Midwest Ephemera.”
For years I couldn’t find the original lettering kit for my Seeburg LPC-1, so in early 2020, I did a bunch of research and made a set. After posting photos online, other people requested sets, so I made more, and started making kits for other jukeboxes. I’m a graphic designer with a good job, and these kits aren’t raking in cash or anything, but I started thinking about other jukebox and record-related printed ephemera I could design.
Meanwhile, earlier this year, a friend and I chipped in to buy a vintage Chandler and Price platen printing press. (What? You don’t have a 2,500-lb printing press in your basement?) Getting into the swing of very-old-school printing engendered even more ideas for jukebox/record collecting projects.
So it seemed like a good idea to incorporate my various hobbies, freelance gigs, and side hustles into an actual business. Thus, “Midwest Ephemera” is now registered as an Illinois LLC. I offer my services for your design, photography, or printing needs, with more hand-printed, lovingly-designed jukebox and record-collecting products on the way.
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