Built to Last

1998 was a year of transition for me, some of it sad and some unhappy.  I’ve sorted through all the files in my memory cabinet and I can’t remember the art exhibit which took me to the Portland Museum of Art one fall evening.  I only remember milling around the gift shop and buying a box of holiday cards.  The cards were letterpress images of a woman wearing a red coat, dodging a snowball.  Something about the card struck my heart; they reminded me how much my Nana loved red.  The cards were expensive, but I bought them anyway and sent them to special friends.

I noticed that the cards were made by Saturn Press on Swan’s Island, off the coast of Maine.  This 2009 article in the Bangor Daily News gives a comprehensive summary of the business and ethos of owners James van Pernis and Jane Goodrich.

One year, I wrote them a letter and requested a catalogue.  Although I was not a card shop owner, James and Jane sent me a catalogue and have continued to send me one every year since; I have faithfully purchased cards from them as my budget allows.

Sometimes, I buy cards from other companies; letterpress printing is having a renaissance of sorts.  It might even be trendy.  There is a card shop in Portsmouth which almost exclusively sells letterpress cards.  They even sell some by Saturn Press.


Friday was a long day at The Big Corporation; it was a short week due to the Labor Day holiday and things did not click along like Saturn Press’s 1932 German letterpress printer.  I worked late and was the last person in the office, which is a lonely thing on Friday nights.  As I was preparing to leave, I checked my mail slot and there was my annual Saturn Press catalogue.

They didn’t forget me.

I ripped open the envelope and wiped a little tear from the corner of my eye.  On the first page of the catalogue was an article about their paper source.  They buy their paper from a company of 53 people in Menasha, Wisconsin; a company that has been in business for over 125 years.

The invention of the Gutenberg press was revolutionary; prior to the invention of moveable type, very few people had access to the printed word.  In our age of “screaming fast downloads” of words and images, such a thing is hard to imagine.

In spite of our progress, almost everything in our lives today is built to be thrown away.  It’s radical to think that letterpress printers were built to last hundreds of years; if they had not been built with this in mind, none of the little card companies would be making pretty little cards to supply little local card stores.  Sure, cards often end up being thrown away like everything else, but they’re easily recycled in a compost pile.  They’re also lovely when framed or held close to one’s heart.

I’m not sure if I’m a neo-Luddite or not; there are some elements of progress which are enjoyable.  I like books and information; I don’t need them at a “screaming fast speed.”

I don’t think throwing almost everything away forever is sustainable.

I like Saturn Press.  It’s hard not to like two people on an island, working at something they love with an eighty-year old printing press.  They don’t have a website and they’re not on Facebook, by design.   You can, however, write to them at:

Saturn Press
P.O. Box 368
Swan’s Island, ME  04685

Would you like a sample of what revolutionary and enduring quality looks like?  If you drop me a line with your name and address I will send you a hand-written letter on a beautiful Saturn Press card.  I’ll do it on Friday nights.  I won’t be lonely, Saturn Press will print a few more cards, and the Postmaster at the Rye Beach Post Office will have a few more pieces of mail to handle.

Don’t stop the presses!

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2 Responses to Built to Last

  1. Eileen says:

    I love this beautiful story. I lived in Portland, Maine… leaving in 1998.
    I had Googled for information on Saturn Press and came across your article. They do make such wonderful cards, I am an unabashed fan.

    • Hi Eileen,
      I’ve heard that Saturn Press is thinking of relocating to a warmer climate. Let’s hope they take their printing press with them and keep making beautiful cards. It’s wonderful, though, that there are so many upstart letterpress card companies keeping this lovely craft alive. Thank you for visiting my blog!

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