Spending a day in letterpress sanctuary

This summer we were scattered in a wide range of geographical locations. Without a teleporter to help us, free wifi kept us together and allowed us to share sights and experiences as if we were present.

One of our destinations led us to emotional reunions with friends from another life in the American Midwest. With several thousand kilometers already covered, three hundred more would not matter much, especially if we did it fascinated by its fame. So we included as a stop Two Rivers, the town that hosts, on the shores of Lake Michigan, Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum.

Fachada Hamilton

This great museum, located in a small place, survives on a steady pulse to preserve the memory of the art of creating wood types such as letterpress printing.

Its name is known worldwide by the support of fans of typography and branding campaigns as Neenah Paper or Field Notes, with its special edition notebooks


Located in the center of the country but away from everything, it keeps its passion thanks to the efforts of its director Jim Moran, his right hand Stephanie Carpenter and their friendly assistants.

They are joined by a fervent volunteer group that helps to clean and catalog tons of material as well as guide tours.

A good portion of the former workers of the factory, energetic retirees that they are, volunteer for the museum and pass on their knowledge so that their know-how is not lost.

All this devotion to wood types had a very casual origin.

Edward Hamilton was the owner of a factory in Two Rivers that used to make furniture. One day the editor of the local newspaper had the need to print a large poster for an event. There was no time to have the Chicago factory do the types, so he asked Edward for a favor.

Memories from old factory

The work pleased the editor for how well it printed. So Hamilton decided to try his luck and make samples for printers in the area. In a short time the market was created thanks to the proximity, speed of delivery and final costs. In 15 years it had no competition.

That was how in 1880 the company J. E. Hamilton Holly Wood Type was born and it would build wood types until 1992.

This was not its only activity. It also developed furniture for printing (type cabinets) and other professional sectors.

Its success was such that today the company exists with the name Hamilton Laboratory Solutions and it specializes in laboratory furniture. The only link of the current Hamilton with wood types and printing is the old building where it operated in Two Rivers.

The importance of the historic legacy of this factory was quickly recognized by the people and through its Historical Society wanted to preserve it.

Fortunately the building and its contents were given to create the museum. The years and the poor state of the same led to moving them at the end of 2013. It was necessary to move 35 tons of material, even today, to the extent of its possibilities, they unpack and restore at the new museum.


The high cost of all this is covered by the involvement of companies linked to the world of paper and graphic arts, the contributions of the lovers of letterpress, and the workshops that are held.

Contrary to what we are accustomed, Hamilton is a museum full of life. Their idea is to restore the material, not to be placed in display cases but rather so that it can be used. And that’s not all. Each year in November there is a meeting of professionals called Wayzgoose; it collaborates with special wood types required in the task of teaching, through letterpress, the Lushootseed language to youth from the Suquamish tribe of Washington state.

Besides, Hamilton is a workplace for its staff and those who want to get to know it. They print and research the printing technique and its possibilities but so do the artists who want to spend time there.

Taller Hamilton Wood Type Museum

Fortunately you do not have to be a virtuoso to stain your hands with ink. They have workshops for beginners, university students and friends who do not know how they have embarked on a journey to a “museum of printing.”

For our latitudes Two Rivers (Wisconsin) is a bit far. Yet if you ever are nearby, Chicago is a fascinating city, worth the detour.

Both tradespeople and companions had a very special day talking about our links with Wisconsin, our professional life, for some between ink and paper catalogs, for others between books and absent-minded students.

We had time to share secrets, tricks, paper preferences and even literature. Jim turned out to be a big fan. So between movable types and color appeared Macondo and Pedro Páramo, in addition to the figure of Cortázar.

Hamilton workshopThe experience was very enjoyable and enlightening. We were able to confirm that letterpress has a powerful attraction. Our friends who had never had the slightest contact or interest and who, admittedly, agreed to humor us, were really fascinated. During the prolonged farewell, and they were thinking about a long weekend to return.

The place invites it. An enviable museum, a cozy village on shore of Lake Michigan … a swim, enjoying smoked fish and let time pass. A great luxury.