outside Monterey, Kentucky, there is a business unaffected by
today’s hurried life. The words “rush order” or
“deadline” do not have meaning there. Plenty of work gets
done, but the name of the game is patience.
For 30 years, Gray Zeitz has operated the Larkspur Press, a letter
press printing shop where movable type is set by hand. The press,
which has replaceable metal letters, was invented by Johannes
Gutenburg in 1436 and remained the standard until the 20th
century. Today’s modern printing presses were developed based on
Gutenburg’s printing machine.
“Gutenburg developed a way of casting type, and that started the
whole revolution,” Zeitz said. “This part of our shop is not
too far removed from Gutenburg’s press.”
. . . .
Zeitz, who prints work for many Kentucky authors, poets and
other publishers, said it may take longer to print using the
movable type method — it takes approximately two years to print
a book — but the quality is incomparable, he said.
“There’s a lot of hand work involved, and the books look
nice,” he said. “The quality is the difference. When you set
our books up beside a quickly-printed book, you can see the
difference. A lot of authors tell me they can see the
Zeitz, and two employees — Leslie Shane and Carolyn
Whitesel — are currently  working on two books and are preparing
to begin a third one. They use a rigorous proofreading system and
are almost two years behind on each book, Zeitz said. They use a
Chandler and Price hand-fed press for the books. They also print
business cards, wedding invitations and other small jobs.
“We’re quite busy right now,” Zeitz said. “This time
of year we actually get work in that has a deadline, like wedding
Zeitz got his start in the letter press craft while a
student at the University of Kentucky. He was studying English and
history at the Lexington school when he met Carolyn Homer, a
special collections librarian. He was invited to apprentice with
Homer at King Library Press. For two years he learned the craft
alongside Homer before opening his own press.
Named after Zeitz’s favorite early-spring wildflower,
which was blooming as he was trying to think of a name for his
business, Larkspur Press has provided almost his entire income for
30 years. Besides brief stints working in tobacco, the press has
been his sole income. Both of his children have tried their hand
at the letter press, but “are doing other things now.”
Working the press is not for everyone, he said. It requires
patience and a love for the craft.
“I like everything about it,” Zeitz said.
Among the authors he has printed for are Steve Sanfield,
Richard Taylor, Dianne Aprile and Mary Lou Hess, Cranston Stroup,
Jeff Worley, Wendell Berry, Logan English, James Baker Hall,
Patrick Hart, Ed McClanahan, Barry Magid, Bobbie Ann Mason,
Maureen Morehead and Susan Richards.
In addition to his presswork, Zeitz also provides
educational programs at his shop. He just recently hosted a wood
engraving class with instructor Wesley Bates. Thirteen students
participated. Each year he also holds a two-day book binding
workshop, where students learn to make decorative papers and learn
how to sew signatures and case bindings and make restricted
For more information about Zeitz’ work, call him at (502)