Peabody Printing Museum back to life, thanks to Arkansans’ efforts

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JANET HAMOUS
The smell of printer’s ink, the clickety-clack of the linotypes and the rhythmic sound of the presses will once again greet visitors to the Peabody Printing Museum, thanks to three young printers from Arkansas who will operate the facility as a letterpress printshop and working museum.

Beth, Josh and Jacob Marshall, siblings from Pettigrew, Ark., will run their graphic design and letterpress printing businesses out of the museum and give people a taste of what the printing business was like before computers radically changed it.

The museum opened in 1998 through the efforts of longtime Peabody Gazette editor Bill Krause and printer Bill Jackson of Wichita.

They amassed what the Peabody Historical Society claims is one of the finest collections of working presses and antique printing equipment and publishing memorabilia in the Midwest.

“The Bills” could often be found at the museum operating the linotypes and presses, doing occasional printing jobs and showing their craft to tourists and students. But Bill Jackson’s death in 2003 and Krause’s ill health halted the presses and the museum sat largely unused.

Marilyn Jones, Peabody Historical Society board member, said the museum board despaired over the future of the museum.

Board members knew enough to guide short tours in the museum, but no one knew how to operate the equipment.

Unlike the busy, working museum they envisioned, the print shop became more like a warehouse, full of machinery that few people around the country knew how to operate.

Serendipity

In March, the board’s prayers were answered when the Marshalls stopped by Peabody on a trip to Kansas City. They were setting up a letterpress print shop to complement an existing graphic-design business.

“We were searching for printing museums to visit because we wanted to get around a larger collection of presses,” said Beth. “We had the presses, but we were still in the process of organizing the print shop.”

Added Jacob: “We were trying to figure out what a fully functional shop should have.”

They found the Peabody Printing Museum locked, but were able to contact Jones, who showed them through the museum.

“My first impression was how nice it was to have young people who were interested and respectful of our equipment,” Jones said.

When they got home to Arkansas, the Marshalls couldn’t get the Peabody museum out of their minds.

“We hated to see such a fine collection just closed down,” Beth said. “The worst thing that can happen to these machines is that they end up getting scrapped just because there’s nobody there to do anything with them.”

An idea occurred to them. The museum had equipment and needed people to operate it. The Marshalls had the expertise, but needed more equipment and a location for their shop.

What about a partnership?

Jones was thinking the same thing and was kicking herself for not getting the printers’ names. As she was pondering whether a letter sent to “Printers – Pettigrew Arkansas” would reach the Marshalls, she received a letter from them proposing a partnership.

“We wrote Marilyn a letter asking if the board would want to consider it,” Beth said.

The Historical Society board was as excited about the possibility as the printers.

“It’s mutually beneficial,” Jones said. “It enables us to show off our printing museum, because otherwise we could not demonstrate our equipment in action. They can give it an authentic touch.”

Jacob said, “We called Marilyn and she said she was floating on Cloud No. 9,” Jacob said.

The rest is history, and the Marshalls are now operating three businesses out of the Peabody Printing Museum.

Letterpress printing

The Marshalls are hoping to capitalize on the growing popularity of using old printing techniques and antique typefaces for business and social stationery.

“It’s becoming a big hobby,” said Beth.

With the advent of computers, typesetting and printing equipment went the way of the dinosaur. Much of the large, heavy equipment was scrapped. People are now realizing that modern print is no rival to the beauty of the old letterpress print work.

Recently, interest has renewed in old style letterpress printing for jobs such as wedding invitations and formal stationery.

The Marshalls also see a demand for letterpress work in the business environment.

They hope to fill both niches.

“There are not a lot of people doing it commercially,” Jacob said.

“It’s a hole that needs to be filled,” added Josh. “We got hooked on the old stuff. And we also realized that we already had the clients for it-all we needed were the presses.”

The business

Josh plans to focus on printing for businesses. His business, Marshall Kraft, will specialize in finer business stationery using embossing, foil and special shapes on extra thick and specialty stocks.

He enjoys the hands-on process of setting type.

“I got tired of pushing the mouse around,” Josh said. “I wanted something that was more creative.”

He became interested in embossing when they were unable to find what they considered a trustworthy embosser.

“Embossing is one thing these presses do really well,” Beth said. “I looked for years for somebody who could serve my clients well in embossing. I’ve just never found someone who was serving commercial embossing well.”

Jacob will work primarily with social printing clients. His business goes by the name Marshall McClough, a variation on a family name.

“There is nothing better than authentic letter-pressed invitations to give a classic old-world touch to weddings or other formal events,” said Jacob. “It’s a slow process, but the end results are well worth it.”

The business and social markets will be kept separate, the Marshalls said.

“If you get too many products, it’s a lot harder to control your quality,” Josh said.

Beth will continue the business she has operated for 10 years, Rubber Duck Design, where she provides custom graphic design and print services to clients worldwide.

Since much of her business is Internet-based, she was able to pick up in Peabody where she left off in Arkansas, without her clients knowing the difference.

The Marshalls come from an entrepreneurial family that has been very supportive of their Kansas venture.

“They still call us for their tech-support calls,” Beth said with a laugh. “We just talked to our mother and old brother yesterday.”

When they’re away from the print shop, the Marshalls enjoy music. Jacob plays the piano, Josh plays the viola and Beth plays Irish folk music on a tin whistle. They are also accomplished ice dancers.

Museum tours

The Marshalls said they still have some work to do in the Printing Museum to get everything “just so,” but they welcome visitors. Business hours are 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Guided tours are offered between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. on the same days. Tours are also available by appointment by calling 620-983-9114.

The Peabody Historical Society hopes to expand the educational programs offered at the Printing Museum and conduct periodic printing workshops, Jones said.

An open house is being planned for the museum, and a date will be announced soon.

“We look forward to continuing the work the two Bills started and hope to make this one of the finest working museums in the country,” said Beth.

More from article archives
Preparing for the big feed
ORIGINALLY WRITTEN Charlene Thomas (left) and Leona Graber, members of the Zoar...
Read More