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Love and printing: Williamston couple keeps letterpress printing alive with 1910 machine

Wendy Shaft and Donald Bixler
Posted at 11:36 AM, Feb 24, 2022

Limner Press in Williamston is the home of a letterpress that's over 100 years old.

It's owned by Donald Bixler and Wendy Shaft, who've been married for 37 years.

"We do copy, design, business cards, letter prep, you know, letterhead, which can be letterpress, printed, or just on off of our laser copier. We do forms, labels, and we can do a lot of the art for people," Shaft said.

Wendy Shaft and Donald Bixler putting stuff away.
Wendy Shaft and Donald Bixler putting stuff away.

The couple met in a print shop in Anchorage, Alaska. Wendy was doing pre-press work and was a printmaker. She says Donald was the new guy working at the shop and she found out he was a third-generation printer.

"My grandfather started working on a print shop at age 16. That was 1892," Bixler said. "My father was also a printer, and out of I'm one of seven boys and five of us ended up being printers."

Shaft says they both wanted to know more about each other.

"He asked me well, 'What do you do?' And I said, well, 'I'm a printmaker,' said Shaft. "He goes, 'Well, whoa. What kind of a press do you use?' And I told him, 'I do linoleum and I use an etching press.' And he says, 'Well, why aren't you using a letterpress?' and I go, 'What is a letterpress?'"

The conversation sparked an interest. The couple started dating and got married in December of 1984.

"So even before we were married, we had done a little set of stationery cards for the holidays for sale, and so we eventually opened our own business, but it was all letterpress," Shaft said.

You might ask what letterpress printing is.

"Letterpress is relief printing. They use metal type or metal engravings and it inks the surface and prints directly off of the raised surface of the type or the engravings," Bixler said.

The letterpress they have is a 1910 Chandler and Price.

1910 Chandler and Price letterpress
1910 Chandler and Price letterpress

"I can run a hand-fed letterpress at about 2,000 or an hour, print 2,000 things in an hour once I'm up and running it," Shaft said.

Shaft says Bixler goes above and beyond for his customers.

"He does invitations and he has customers that still want numbering and die-cutting even though a lot of it can just be done on a laser thing. Sometimes, you know, people want pre-made tags with those little reinforcements on them," Shaft said.

In 2004, the couple moved back to Shaft's hometown in Williamston for family reasons.

"When we relocated, we brought like a 40-foot-container of all our letterpress equipment with us," Shaft said.

In 2005, they decided to open their business, Limner Press in Williamston.

Limner Press in Williamston
Limner Press in Williamston

"It was a lot harder when we got here because it was not just reopening the business here it was trying to figure out how to do business here because it was totally different than what we were doing at Alaska," Bixler said.

And it seemed like everyone had a letterpress.

"So we decided to do wedding invitations and do fine letterpress printing and eventually added a copier," Shaft said.

With some time and word of mouth and moving the shop over to Grand River Avenue, the couple's business started picking up.

Limner Press is also the publisher for Shaft's art, which includes her card line and fine letterpress printed chapbooks.

"Besides all the business printing, and, you know, we do like spiral binary. We do lots of sort of quirky things. And even if we don't do it, we help people all the time find what they need," Shaft said. "So I would say, we might not be one-stop shopping, but we are one-stop. We can help you, We're here sort of as this community service so that people don't have to go into Okemos. And they can just come right here to Limner Press in Williamston."

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