Vol. VII, No. 1, Summer 1993

The Last Handset Newspaper in Arkansas

I am an archivist by profession, but a printer by trade, having learned my craft from studying old textbooks and performing many sessions of trial and error at the typecase. My love for printing began when I first gained employment as a bindery clerk at a printing office in Fayetteville. As time passed, my fascination with the noisy machinery and mysterious activities that surrounded me increased, and I eventually learned how to operate the modern duplicating presses which use the offset process. I knew that there was an older, more ancient method of placing words on paper, namely letterpress, but there were no presses and type in the shop nor printers to teach me.

I finally bought an old platen press and a few cases of type from a second-hand dealer and began to experiment with them at my home. As I grew in understanding of the craft of handsetting letters in the composing stick, locking up the form, and impressing the image on paper, I began to read everything I could about the history of printing and its practitioners. By the time I entered graduate school at the University of Arkansas and began research for my thesis on the frontier newspapers of Washington County, I had decided to actually live the life of a frontier editor.

My home was in Johnson, a small community just north of Fayetteville, and with the support of the city council I began in 1984 a monthly newspaper for the community which I continued for a full year. I set all the type for the rag with the assistance of three twelve-year-old apprentices and the Johnson Examiner became the last handset newspaper in the state of Arkansas.

In the years that have followed that brief experiment a lot has changed: I graduated from the University, accepted a position there as an archivist, pursued an additional degree in Library Science, and fathered two sons. But I still like to work that old platen press, churning out cards and stationery for friends on occasion, and I smile with fullness of heart while I watch my oldest boy as he struggles at the case picking out letters, or stands on a box at the press carefully feeding paper between its slow moving iron jaws.

Kim Allen Scott


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