Jeanne Sager | Democrat
ROBERT FISCHER ISN'T sure exactly how old his presses are, but he’s put them somewhere in the early part of the 20th century this one evidently came from Cleveland, Ohio.
This 'Echo' Is
By Jeanne Sager
JEFFERSONVILLE December 11, 2007 What was old is new again in Jeffersonville.
The vacant building at the edge of town once home to Segar Oil has been painted a cheery yellow, a sign strung from the front.
It’s a sign of new life.
This is, after all, the first time the deed on the building has passed from the hands of the Segar family to another since 1883.
It’s in peering through the windows that passersby see signs of the past.
Three handpresses, forged more than a century ago, are lined up along the front.
Watch long enough, and you’ll see Robert or Christina Fisher step up to the machines, position an engraved plate with the design of a business card or flyer and set the wheel in motion.
The presses aren’t just for show.
Echo Letterpress is an honest-to-goodness old-fashioned print shop, right on Jeffersonville’s Main Street.
Graphic designers who decided two years ago to escape the grind of Manhattan in favor of Robert’s long-time second home just outside of the village, the Fishers are quite literally living a dream.
Artists from their old circles have latched on to listen to their story.
“They all think you’re crazy, but I think they’re all sort of envious,” Robert said with a grin.
On vacation in Montreal two years ago, the Fishers made the decision.
No more design firms, crazy hours and working to the bone only to have your carefully designed work thrown out on a whim.
“We were doing a lot of computer work,” Robert recalled. “We kind of wanted to just get back to the things we love the most.”
Letterpress begins either with a plate created for now in Syracuse by a printer who takes the Fisher’s hand created designs and copies them in reverse onto a piece of durable plastic or heavy “type” pieced together to spell out the words of a wedding invitation or birth announcement.
The plates or pieces of type are covered in ink which makes its mark on pages fed through the press, creating the final product.
It’s a painstaking process and costly to boot. Just 250 business cards can run in the $200 range.
But the work of Echo Letterpress is one-of-a-kind, marked with something that can’t be achieved spitting out of a fancy computer printer.
To make their project authentic, the Fishers purchased an entire printshop in an eBay auction, drove to Auburn, Mass. to take it apart and carefully recreated it in Jeffersonville.
Robert recalls learning about this “old, almost lost art of printing” in college.
He had the rare opportunity to work with someone who carried on the tradition, and he’s put the knowledge to work.
Still, it’s been two years of trial and error. The Fishers first commissions came through their network of friends and family, and they used them to practice.
When they felt confident enough to open shop, they did, tearing down the paper that had covered the expansive windows on the refurbished Segar building.
The building itself is a gem, Christina said, located just off the Callicoon Creek with the windows that allow her to feel like she’s working out in the middle of the natural world.
When they decided to go into business, there were no open storefronts in Jeffersonville, so they headed out of town.
They tried to obtain space first in Liberty then in Livingston Manor, but plans fell through.
Finally, Christina got in touch with Sally Segar, and the women struck a deal.
Outfitting the shop came next.
“No one manufactures letterpresses anymore,” Christina explained.
So they turned to the ’net, and discovered an entire hobby shop up for sale in one block.
Their 88-year-old owner was in poor health, and he’d asked his daughter not to sell his prized possessions piecemeal.
The Fishers found a gold mine in the small shop on his Massachusetts property.
“We kind of suddenly had an instant shop,” Robert explained.
Purchased some 50 years ago, the presses had already had a full life in a major printshop for at least five decades.
For the past half-century, they were used a maximum of three days a week for small jobs.
Proving the old adage “they just don’t make ’em like they used to,” the presses are still in top shape.
Moved into the Jeff shop, they’ll enable the Fishers to complete small jobs within two weeks, larger jobs in a month.
With a Website under construction and the doors officially open, orders are coming fast and furious.
Boosting the numbers was a feature this summer in Martha Stewart Weddings with invitations the Fishers designed for Robert’s sister’s (a Stewart employee) nuptials.
It’s opened their services up to a national audience to complement work that thus far has mostly come through second-homeowners.
The proximity of Jeffersonville to the city has helped.
“That’s sort of the nice thing - you’re two hours from New York City, but you feel like you’re a world away,” Robert said with a grin.
He bought his house here because he loves to fly fish of course he rarely gets out on the river these days.
A professor at Parsons School of Design, Robert will be cutting back to spend more time in Jeffersonville as the business grows.
The local community is being courted this holiday season with old-fashioned printshop demonstrations including one set for this Sunday, Dec. 16, at 1 and 3 p.m.
The Fishers still hire themselves out as graphic artists, and they’ve stocked the shop with wrapping paper and greeting cards for the walk-in client.
“We’ve made a big effort to be part of the community,” Robert said. “We don’t want to just join with what’s here; we want to add to it.”
And what exactly will they add?
“We know what good design is,” Christina said simply.
To get a taste, stop in this weekend or anytime they’re open.
With extended holiday hours, the shop is open Thursday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.