State of Mind, April ’23

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.

Spinvite logo

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!


Return of the Spinvite™

Inked up (7" record)

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.

George (Studio on Fire), Bob (Skylab Letterpress), Ben (Letterpess Mechanic) and Bryan (Midwest Ephemera) at Wayzgoose 2022.

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?

hand-set type for "Inked Up" Spinvite

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.

"Inked Up" jukebox labels

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.

Final "Inked Up" Spinvite in sleeve with jukebox strip
grooves (detail)

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.


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!

Follow Midwest Ephemera on Instagram and Facebook.

Follow the Bedells on instagram: Bryan, Tracie, MK, Calvin, Hope.


Customer Gallery

We love to see Midwest Ephemera (or original) lettering in the wild! Please send us photos of your customized jukebox and we’ll share them here…


AY/DS Text Now Available

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.


AY Type Test Run

Seeburg AY with custom text

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!

History Projects

The Mother Lode

When I acquired a Seeburg LPC-1 jukebox in 2001, the big empty space at the top bothered me: clearly there was supposed to be some lettering there. Once I picked up a manual, I saw I was correct, and it specified Seeburg Part No. 509072, the “Type ACK-2 Alphabet Case Kit.” I immediately set up some automatic notifications on eBay and waited.

I was still waiting nineteen years later, as the 2020 pandemic was kicking in. Finally, I resolved to finally make a set myself. I looked at the manuals, examined photos and YouTube videos, carefully measured the header, and identified the typeface Seeburg used. I laid out a full alphabet with numbers and some extra characters and dingbats that I thought might be useful. Knowing what I know about design and printing, I reverse engineered how I imagined Seeburg had manufactured it in the sixties. Assuming that it was originally screen-printed, I knew digital printing would match the color and texture and be a lot more cost-effective for a small run. So I contacted a printer and had one set digitally printed on acetate. I cut it out by hand, which took a lot of time and patience, but it looked great!

After I posted photos of this first set on Facebook, several other LPC-1 owners expressed interest in buying a set of their own. One forum member (Thanks, Michael!) wrote to let me know that that his LPC-480 used the same type, but in blue, and he had found one “S” in the bottom of his machine.

prototype S vs original LPC-480 S

He mailed it to me for reference and I was delighted to see that my prototype set was VERY close to the original. my only miscalculation was the type size, mine were a bit larger than the originals (see photo above). It even turned out the method I used to mark the crop lines was nearly exactly the same way Seeburg had done it. So with a few adjustments, I made my first batch of lettering kits, both in white for the LPC-1 and blue for the LPC-480.

A couple months later, after I’d built a website and had sold several kits, one of my customers sent an ebay link to the auction I’d been dreaming of since 2001. A collector in Texas was selling a big set of lettering acquired from a retired Kansas jukebox technician. It even included some original packaging, and a large wooden storage box.

Hilariously, the seller had quoted my website in his listing, calling me “the expert” on this type of lettering, which is true in that no one else really cares about it, but I’m sure there are plenty of people out there with more firsthand knowledge (I’d love to hear from them!). I immediately contacted the seller, and he was happy to work out a deal with me, knowing I’d make good use of it. A week later a carefully-packed box arrived, and I excitedly dug in…

The bulk of the collection was two boxes labeled “509075 Alphabet White” which turned out to be the Seeburg LPC-1 type, and “485875 Alphabet Red,” the red block type I didn’t recognize. These letters were sorted into small envelopes containing 25 unused letters each.

Most of the white type (and some of the red type) was packed in custom Seeburg manila envelopes (judging by the part numbers, the red type was older, so probably sometime in the 60s, Seeburg started using the custom envelopes). I’d hoped there’d be at least one envelope for each character, but of course that wasn’t the case, there were several envelopes of some letters, and none of others.

The red type was really neat-looking, and the tiles were the same size as the LPC lettering, but I had no idea what it was for. It was my guess (based on the typography and the part number) that it was for an older jukebox. Unlike the LPC lettering, it was printed in transparent ink, so I assumed it was backlit. I set it aside for the time being, and moved on to the third box.

The third box, about the same size as the first two, was not nearly as organized. This was all used type that had been salvaged from old machines. Some was organized into leftover direct-mail and Publishers Clearing House envelopes, but most of it was piles of loose letters. Along with white and blue LPC lettering, there was a lot of RED type in the “LPC” style. I’m still unsure what machine this was used for.

Some envelopes contained letters removed from jukeboxes in a specific venue. Some contained a giant mess of characters. One was labeled “C for Mr. Blue” and contained several blue LPC C’s that were smaller than the others. It took me a while to piece it together…

It didn’t say “Mr.,” it said “Mc.!” I guess the abundance of Irish-owned establishments warranted a special small-cap “c.” That was the only character I came across in this whole collection that I hadn’t been including in my sets! I made a note to add those to the next run.

Finally, the storage box: It appears to be made specifically for this lettering, with each section carefully labeled, but it’s unclear if it was handmade by a distributor, or made and sold by Seeburg. It’s very well-engineerd, with a metal hinged lid that flips up. It’s angled back a bit, so the type stays in place when it’s mounted on a wall, which this one apparently was at some point. The outside of the lid and box was painted-over at some point, so I’m unsure of the original finish or if there were any markings on it, but the inside of the lid is unpainted blue-tinted anodized steel with a yellowed label glued in place:

At first, this felt like the answer to all my questions, but with time, it’s only added more. Note that it cites part number 509076, and is marked as part number 509077 (close to the white LPC kit, “509072” and the SC-1 Consolette kit “50988”). The best I can figure, the “Alphabet Kits” listed in the manual were NOT for end-users (club owners) but for distributors, who would presumably buy this large storage box that included a starter set of lettering, and could be refilled as needed by ordering 25-pack envelopes. That makes sense, as the distributors would install the lettering when they installed or serviced jukeboxes on-site. It’s possible this storage case was for an entirely different Alphabet Kit, or perhaps that part number is for the box itself, which could be used to store any Alphabet Kit. And, again, it’s even possible that the box was home-made and the label was just a sheet of paper that was glued into it. If anyone out there has a comprehensive Seeburg parts listing, I’d love to see it.

All in all, after my son and I spent a full evening cleaning and sorting the type, there were a few thousand letters and numbers and punctuation marks, but not a complete set of any of the LPC colors, ha. In any case, it gave me a good idea how the lettering was made, packaged, and distributed, and I did find at least ONE example of each character (as far as I can tell, numbers weren’t made) of the block red alphabet.

Oh! Almost forgot, I spent days trying to figure out what that block text was for, and eventually I tracked it back to the earlier (I was right!) Seeburg AY-series jukeboxes. But looking at photos, I couldn’t figure out where it was used. Then I found a PDF of an old sales brochure, and saw that the “Seeburg” logo at the top could be removed and replaced with the lettering!

So I’ve spent the last couple months redrawing the type in my spare time, and that will be available soon for AY owners!

The main mystery that remains is what the red LPC-style type is (it occurs to me just now that maybe that is part 509076?). There are a lot of jukeboxes built around that same platform in the mid-to-late sixties, I suspect the Stereo Showcase, Discotheque, Electra, or Phono-Jet, hopefully a customer or someone else who comes across this story will point me in the right direction!

Hopefully this journey was as exciting for you as it was for me! I know 60s Seeburg reproduction jukebox lettering is a very small market that’s never going to make me rich (if I sell another several kits, it might cover the printing, and what I paid for this auction!), but this project gave me something to focus on and helped keep the Covid-19 blues at bay. It’s all been worth it to hear from a handful of happy customers that have been looking for these lettering kits for years.


SC-1: Hot Off the Press!

Our reproduction Seeburg SC-1 Consolette Wallbox text (original part no. 509088 ”Type RACK-1 Remote Alphabet Kit”) is printed, cut, and ready to go! They’re available here! They’re $25/set plus shipping.

If you have multiple SC-1’s installed at a diner or other commercial location, drop me a line, I can make a bunch of custom panels with your business name, it’d be lot cheaper than ordering a kit of individual letters for each box.

We’ve also reprinted the white LPC kit, so those are back in stock, same link as above. More info on all our products is here.


AY and SCH on the Way!

We’ve finished the artwork and setup for Seeburg SCH wallbox and AY jukebox lettering, the next step is to get pricing from our printers and do some testing to make sure the acetate and printing accurately match the originals. Things are slowing down for the holidays but we should have both kits available very early in 2021.

We still have a few LPC kits available on ebay, once those are gone, we will reprint those too but there might be a brief gap in availability as we finish up AY and SCH, so snap them up now if you need them soon! Thanks for your support!