Larkspur Press makes books the old-fashioned way, one letter at a time

Spirit of the Bluegrass

OWEN COUNTY, KENTUCKY (WDKY-TV)- In a workshop near the small town of Monterey, Gray Zeitz minds his p’s and q’s.

“I guess it helps if you’re a little but dsylexic because everything is backwards,” he said.

He spends hours almost every day, placing metal type into rows, forming words one letter at a time, that become sentences, then paragraphs, then chapters.

“I’ve done it so long, sometimes when I’m writing, I have to stop and think which way a “d” and a “b” goes.”

For 45 years, he’s operated Larkspur Press, a place that prints books the old-fashioned way.

“The press I’m using now was built in 1916 and setting type goes all the way back to (Johannes) Gutenberg,” he said. That would be the mid-1400s.

Life is slower at Larkspur.

“People come in and say I could never do this.” Zeitz said.

You have to be patient and particular.

“You can’t feel pressure. When you are forced to work fast, that only makes you have more mistakes.”

Larkspur puts out just two or three books a year, mostly poetry and short fiction by Kentucky authors.

The books are printed on hand-made paper that almost feels like fabric.

“They have the work of the hand with i,” Zeitz said. “That really just says it. You can tell it was handmade.”

The bookmaker says he doesn’t know of another press in the country that does what he does, which is turn out handmade editions of 300 to 600 copies that are affordable. Most cost from $20 to $40. Other hand presses only do large special editions that can cost hundreds of dollars. Larkspur does a few of those, too, and at the other extreme, illustrated note cards.

“I print letter press because I enjoy it and I think it looks better,” he said.

The press is the only motorized thing in the print shop and when Gray is feeding pages by hand, it’s the only part of the process that has a steady pace.

“It’s a dance. It’s just a dance,” he said, as he placed pages in the antique machine.

Right now, Zeitz says he’s about two years behind in his work. He may never catch up, and that’s just fine with him.

“I enjoy it. I enjoy every part of it. There’s a lot to be said about having a job you enjoy.”

Zeitz has one co-worker, Leslie Shane, who is working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Her job is slow, too. She sews the pages into the books.

Larkspur titles aren’t sold online. The press does has a website, but Zeitz says a friend manages it. Books are available at several independent bookstores around the state, including Black Swan Books in Lexington and Poor Richard’s in Frankfort.

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