If you find yourself walking down Third Street in Old Town Eureka in the afternoon, you might get lucky and see a vintage letterpress in action. You will not be able to tell, but this thing is loud, repetitive and fun to watch.
It’s an old piece of machinery with a small motor mounted on its side that allows for quick motion and even faster printing. Using a mounted linocut, or carved linoleum block, ink is rolled onto its surface and it is then pressed onto paper or fabric to produce a print. As the ink roller lifts, a human replaces the paper over and over in a rhythmic motion. It simultaneously seems rigorous and delicate when you see the designs make it onto a sheet.
If you care to walk in the building you will see there is paper everywhere, organized in various ways that only the people involved will know where things are. In the middle is Lynn M Jones, 44, the woman who makes all of this go.
Jones, owner of Just My Type Letterpress Paperie and Lynn-oleum, built an institution in Humboldt. She operates a card and gift store, designs and manufactures a line of wholesale goods, prints the letterpress portion of the packaging for Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate, and creates original, limited edition linocut art.
Originally from the East Bay, Jones came to the lost coast as a student and soccer player for Cal Poly Humboldt in 1996. As part of the Arts department, her emphasis was in graphic design. Before long, a field trip to Oakland that led to an internship with David Lance Goines carved her path going forward.
“He taught me how to use the letterpress and how to carve linoleum blocks,” Jones said. “I was hooked.”
After she graduated in 2000, she worked for Goines for a year. After the September 11th attack, people stopped buying art and Goines could not keep her Jones employed. But Goines allowed Jones to use his machines so that she could pursue her own projects. Then in 2003, Jones officially filed for her first business license for Just My Type Letterpress Paperie. Most of the work she did at that time was in the form of wedding invitations and business cards – strictly custom work, all done by hand.
“It was always sitting with clients and hashing every little detail,” Jones said.
Jones continued her work after returning to Humboldt County and before long the old Lambert McKeehan Inc. Print Shop was closing. Jones was asked if she wanted dibs on anything they were selling. She bought everything she could use and set up a print shop in South G street Arcata.
“Facebook didn’t exist and it was hard to get the word out,” Jones said. “The idea was to be a limited edition artist. So that business slowed to a stop after three years.”
That is when Jones decided that it was the perfect opportunity to take a break and start having children. She took a six-year hiatus and sold the things that she thought would never use again. What she did not sell, she kept tucked away in a storage unit. As a steady income while she reared her two children, Jones took on a part-time to eventually full-time gig for the North Coast Journal as a graphic designer.
While on hiatus, the owners of Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate bought a garage-sized print shop from a person in the Bay Area. Jones taught them how to use the letterpress and they did their printing out of a garage for five years. As they ramped up in 2015, Jones offered to do the printing for them for a year.
“You spend a lot of time thinking when you’re working the press,” Jones said. “I remember thinking ‘If they pay me a little more, I can open up shop elsewhere.’”
Then in 2016, a retail space in the Carson Block Building at the corner of Third and F became available, and she took it with a coworker. This time, Just My Type began to pick up in ways they had not before. She found a press refurbisher in Fremont that sold her the letterpress she now uses daily. She specifically purchased this machine because it allows her to use linoleum blocks that were larger than regular printing paper. She can print up to 18” x 24” poster-sized designs.
With that machine, Jones took over printing the designs on the envelopes of Dick Taylor chocolate bars, and has been doing that work for the last six years. In 2022, Jones printed roughly 500,000 impressions for them. Just to give you an idea, one specific letterpress is used every afternoon for three hours. A person can reasonably print a design on one thousand envelopes in an hour, depending on the complexity of the design. Possibly 40 minutes, on a good day.
Another reason Jones prints on one particular manual letterpress is because of the paper being used. Next time you eat one of those chocolates, consider the thickness of the envelopes. An automatic paper feeding machine will have a hard time cycling through them and there can be more room for error.
Leading up to 2019, Jones began printing and selling wholesale items, and she needed more space. A dress shop left an F Street retail space vacant and in May 2020, Jones moved her whole operation there. Only to find out a year and a half later that she needed even more space, she managed to expand by connecting the F Street and Third Street spaces.
“One of the presses couldn’t fit through the door of the retail space so we needed both,” Jones said.
With her wholesale items reaching over 100 stores as far as Maine, Jones joined the Greeting Card Association (GCA) and dove headfirst into a whole new world. She found out about the Louie Awards and began submitting her designs.
“The Louie Awards are like the Oscars of the greeting card world,” Jones said. “And I’ve won a few.”
Her first win was in a new category called “Trends and Events.” She created the card long before she joined the GCA. It was a customer who suggested it “They tried to bury us, they didn’t know we were seeds.”
“The image popped into my head. I sketched it, carved it, and printed it on seeded paper,” Jones said. “The hook of it is, if you soak the card overnight and plant it, flowers will grow.
Nowadays, Jones has a seemingly endless stream of projects coming in and out.
If you have not already seen, Jones has made a beautifully detailed collection of 12 Eureka Victorians linocuts. She took pictures of each building then sketched them in her sketchbook. She then hand-carved the linoleum blocks, hand-printed them on her vintage letterpress, and hand-painted them.
You cannot buy the originals but she does sell them in card form, poster size, and stickers on the Just My Type Letterpress website.
One of Jones’ machines in action.