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Instruments and Calendars

Instruments and Calendars: A Collection of Bob Smakula

Evandale Library - Spring 2024 

In 2010 , Julie Belcher, owner of Yee Haw, and later Pioneer House Letter Press Printing Studio suggested to Bob Smakula, owner of Smakula Fretted Instruments, that he consider having a custom advertising calendar printed. The idea struck a chord and the first modest order of 200 calendars were printed featuring the image of an 1880’s Cleveland, Ohio made banjo by J. French. The promotion proved so popular that from 2010 to 2023 a unique calendar featuring an unusual instrument from the Smakula collection was published. With the exception of 2014.


The letter press style of printing uses movable type that is carefully set up to produce the image. The earliest of the Smakula calendars featured hand carved printers blocks. Later, with some of the more complicated musical   instrument images, laser engraved blocks were used to replicate the detail.


The exhibit will feature a selection of the calendars, the custom printer blocks, and the actual instruments featured on the calendars.

Banjo and prints 

A description of the letter pressing from the printer, Julie Belcher

collectible calendar process 
Letterpress is a method of relief printmaking with movable antique metal and wood typography and ornamental borders. Imagery can be carved out of wood or a linoleum block - everything to prepare the design is backwards and when printed will be correct reading. A photograph or intricate illustration can be etched into metal with the image transformed in a halftone dot pattern like in a newspaper. 
Smakula Fretted Instrument prints are different each year combining all of the methods listed above and using size and color palette for a similar consistency over the years. Once we design the piece it is hand printed in house on a vintage Vandercook SP-15 proof press at Pioneer House in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Printing & color separation
A design is typeset all at once in a form that can lockup for the press flatbed - We use "type high" size for everything so when it is to be printed  the inked rollers on the Vandercook hit the high parts of the type and blocks and the low parts don't receive any ink so don't press onto the paper.
Ink is hand mixed and applied to rollers on the press. When a sheet of paper if hand fed into the gripper and rolled forward the rollers simultaneously ink the block face and the paper presses into the blocks with significant pressure to deboss the blocks into the paper.
Each color separation is printed individually so for a red and black ink design the lighter color red goes down first and darker colors either overprint the previous layer or print in the blank spots where elements that weren't to be red had been removed before initial printing pass.
It usually takes a day for each layer of ink to dry before applying the next color. Once dry they are stacked and trimmed on our manual lever operated paper cutter. The calendar portion (a tear away pad for each month) is adhered to each print and packaged for shipping.