Printing News 8/06

 

Letterpress Shop Continues Family Legacy

By Pamela Mortimer

 

Hanging on the office wall of New Jersey’s Wheal-Grace Corporation is a letterhead printed in five colors that was produced on a letterpress almost six decades ago. The letterhead dates back to 1949 when Emil’s father, Armando, worked for and eventually purchased Colorama Press. “That was no small accomplishment,” notes Emil proudly, “to print that many colors in register on an old one color letterpress.” Hanging next to the letterhead is a more recent sample; the announcement for the opening of Greenwich Letterpress, a custom studio owned by Amy and Beth Salvini; Emil’s daughters. “My dad, who passed away in 1985, would have been amazed to see his granddaughters providing letterpress, a process that slowly died out as Colorama Press, like most printing firms, made the switch to offset printing.” It is truly a story of three generations of printers in one family, and the birth, death and re-birth of an age old printing process.

 

From Father to Son

 

In 1982, Colorama Press evolved into Wheal-Grace. “It was the same company,” states Emil Salvini. “It was just that by the 80’s Colorama was a bit dated, so a name change was in order.” Barring the name change, the company has been in continuous operation for almost sixty years. Wheal-Grace specializes in pharmaceutical, financial and miscellaneous full color offset printing for the advertising and corporate communities. A state-of-the art facility is operated in a 25,000 square foot building in Belleville, New Jersey. Emil started with the company in sales in the late 1970’s and took over in 1985, when his father passed away. “It was a tough time in my life,” recalled Salvini, “I was alone at the helm and the company needed to modernize.” With printing ink in his veins, it was easy for Emil to make the decision to purchase the company’s first five color 40” Heidelberg press.

 

In 2001, Salvini received a professional degree from the Harvard Business School. “It was a bit difficult to participate in the three year program and to be away from the business for long periods of time but it was necessary for the overall health of the business,” notes Emil. Known for his marketing acumen, Emil created and trademarked numerous proprietary printing processes such as Green-Print, Wheal-Grace's exclusive environmental printing program and Shadow-Etch, a black and white, museum-quality printing process recognized by the Smithsonian Museum as a unique American printing process.

 

From Mother to Daughters

 

Greenwich Letterpress, the fine art studio owned by twenty-something sisters Amy and Beth Salvini, came about when Emil Salvini’s wife, Nancy, a graphic designer, realized that there was a genuine need for quality letterpress in the Manhattan area. Originally slated to open in Brooklyn, the Salvinis discovered a vacant space on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village and soon called it home. The West Village seemed like the perfect location for the custom-made wares and fine gifts that the Salvinis intended to sell. Oddly enough, there are few, if any, stores like Greenwich Letterpress in Greenwich Village or New York City as a whole. Rarer yet is the fact that even though Greenwich Letterpress sells items from other manufacturers, 90% of the store’s items are handmade and uses fine, unique papers from around the globe. According to Beth Salvini, Vice President and the store’s buyer, “Stores like ours are almost non-existent”.

Beth Salvini, a fine artist and graduate of Boston University, and her sister Amy, a graphic artist and Skidmore alum, decided to combine their talents while carrying the torch of the next generation of the family business. Amy provides design services and works with supplied designs, while Beth handles the retail division and searches the industry for unusual gift items.

 

The objective of Greenwich Letterpress was to keep art alive in an industry that relies heavily on high-tech equipment. “My grandfather and great uncles had letterpresses and small studios,” said Beth. “But we knew that’s not something we wanted to do. The goal from the beginning was to sell hand-made goods. We wanted to boost the hand-made market.” The letterpress market is a small one, but one that has a loyal following. “Most people we end up working with understand that letterpress is unique and that it’s one person who runs a single sheet through the press every time.”

 

Within a few months of opening, Greenwich Letterpress was a success. The shop has been featured in numerous publications including DailyCandy, Time Out NY, and The New York Times. Aside from custom social and business printing, Greenwich Letterpress has proven to be a wonderful outlet for similar small companies across the U.S. who may not have a place to display or sell their work. Greenwich Letterpress is in the process of launching a book of printed samples for clients that choose not to go the custom route.

 

The shop’s two letterpresses are operated at the Wheal-Grace facility due to space limitations in the Greenwich Village store. They are in the process of qualifying as a Women Owned Enterprise. Nancy Salvini provides creative inspiration and owns a small percentage of the company. Beth recalls that there was never a time when her parents weren’t in the basement creating something for her or her sister. If the girls would see a particular item at an art show or flea market that they wanted to buy, their mother would often whisper, “Don’t buy that, we can make it at home”. It’s that spirit that has instilled the ambition and drive in her daughters. “Creativity is just part of who we are,” said Beth. “It just comes naturally to us.”

 

While operating a booming business, Beth Salvini laments that there is little time for her to sit down and make cards and other items like she used to. However, her mother and family friends often help out. In the future, Greenwich Letterpress hopes to print and package their own line to sell in the store. “In terms of custom printing and letterpress, we’re really trying to create a unique look so that a year or two down the line, people will see our cards and know that they’re ours,” Beth said.

 

Their father who owns none of the company acts as their mentor in teaching them the trade. “Not unlike the relationship I had with my dad quite a few years,” Emil Salvini remembers with a smile. And looking toward the future, “We are doing what we can to keep the process alive”.