Pressing Matters

Issue 7 – 2019 – Crafted with love

With her letterpress studio specialising in printed birth announcement cards, Letterpers founder Tiny Risselada has an enviable collection of vintage cards, which come in all shapes, sizes and print techniques.

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My own birth announcement card was a fairly simple one with a child in a boat clog, inspired by my father’s work as an engine driver on inland shipping. At home, he was always tinkering with his 1951 Citroën Traction and I think that’s where my love for old robust machines comes from. This feeling of controlling heavy machinery came back to me when I first printed on my 1898 platen press. You can tell by the sound whether you have too much or too little ink on the press, the rattling, the rhythm, the hard labour to operate the machine. Pedalling it to keep it running, inserting the cards and always keeping an eye on the result. It suited me – as if it was made for me.

My husband was pretty happy when I moved my platen press from our home to my studio space – a beautiful location in the old Prodent toothpaste factory in Amersfoort, Netherlands. Not long after my move, I needed to expand my space to accommodate five foot-operated platen presses, three hand-operated platen presses and a proofing press. The advantage of collecting birth announcements is that they don’t take up a lot of space, at least much less than the other collections of mine such as wooden type.

It started with a box with very old birth announcements and wedding invitations from a great aunt. I was so impressed by how beautiful they were and with how much love the cards were designed. On Markplaats (a sort of Dutch eBay) I discovered that there are more collectors who sell them, so I’ve slowly built up my collection in the past few years and I only buy the cards that really appeal to me – it’s where I found my oldest birth announcement card, from 1923.

The history of birth announcements started more than 100 years ago, with the first birth announcements more like letters, dating back to 1778. The Dutch queen Juliana, born on April 30, 1909, was one of the first to get a real birth announcement and since that time birth announcements became increasingly a part of the Dutch culture. In the 1930s, the stork started to be depicted. Seen as a good luck charm – the Dutch name ‘Ooievaar’ means ‘carrier of luck’ – the story goes that the stork transfers the ‘soul’ to the baby, so that he or she would become happy. One of my most special cards from the 1930s is one where they have (manually) ‘photoshopped’ a child onto the back of the stork. In the 1940s and 1950s, the cards started to use more humour. This is reflected in the cards with children, wrapped in a nappy, and on their way to work with a briefcase or baby bottle. Later, in the 1960s, Velor could be printed so that the image felt like fabric, but this technique was probably very labor intensive and didn’t really take off. For a long time, it felt that the use of a beautiful traditional product had completely disappeared. Well, almost…

Fast-forward to more recent times and here in the Netherlands there were only a few print shops left, so to express my love for the letterpress craft and to make a beautiful birth announcement for my daughter, I decided to start my letterpress company in 2009. Since then, I designed almost 10,000 different cards and printed them with my team. The story behind each card makes designing birth announcement cards special. I don’t have a standard set of templates – each card is slightly different and tailor-made for every child. Often there is a hidden story, expressed in the use of a small asterisk, certain colours or elements. These elements occasionally represent a previously lost unborn baby or the struggle it took to have this baby. Many hidden stories that you don’t see but that are there and only the parents and I know – it’s truly special to be involved in telling important stories with the parents.

These special cards that we are making now are small pieces of art that will still exist in 100 years. As an admirer of the history of birth announcements, it also makes me happy to know that the cards we print today will be a part of the saved history in the future.