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Printing a treasure on antique machines

Tom Glazer, president of Graphic Image of Melville,

Tom Glazer, president of Graphic Image of Melville, shows printed page samples and metal plates that are used in printing illustrations for the booklet "The Greatest Gift," on which the movie "It's a Wonderful Life" is based. (March 27, 2012) Photo Credit: Heather Walsh

Call it a throwback or a time machine experiment, but businessman Tom Glazer will use old-fashioned methods to replicate the booklet that inspired the 1946 holiday film classic, "It's A Wonderful Life."

His family's Graphic Image company, a high-end stationery and leather goods maker in Melville, last year republished the little-known story "The Greatest Gift" by Philip Van Doren Stern for the holidays.

But the new, old-style booklet will be re-created on the company's out-of-date printing presses, harvested from dying or downsizing businesses. The paper going through them will be pulpier, with slightly raggedy edges, just like old times. The binding will be sewn, same as the original 1944 booklets.

"It'll be a real work of art," Glazer said. "It'll be a labor of love."

And labor it will be.

The old machines are letterpress printers, which use metal plates with type or illustrations in relief. The plates are assembled on the machine and pressed onto the page.

For the really hard part, each page with the original blue and black illustrations will be run through several times. First, the words go on. That's followed by plates with the blue part of the art. Last is the metal plate that defines shapes and shadows with black ink.

Glazer thinks multiple pressings per page is why the original booklet, a copy of which he found in his late father's bookcase two years ago, had some of the art bleeding into the words. It's a quirk he might keep in his version.

"Letterpress is an antiquated but very charming and beloved leftover from 50 years ago," he said. "There's a level of detail in these products that are not necessarily prevalent in what modern-day equipment can produce."

When all's done, Glazer said, a leather-bound edition could be priced as high as $125, depending on production costs and vendor demand.

Graphic Image's clientele is the well-heeled. The business makes leather purses, croc-embossed calendars, iPad cases and much more. From Bergdorf's to Barneys, high-end vendors from around the world carry the items, often with their own names stamped on them.

But whether the niche booklet sells in an era of Kindles and smartphones could rest on how Glazer presents the book.

"He's going to have to create the aura of this," said Charlie MacLeod, co-founder of SMM Advertising, a brand builder in Smithtown. "He can describe not only the romance of the book but the romance of the process."

MacLeod, whose firm marketed Olde Brooklyn sodas, Pall Corp.'s filters and Australian olive oil, believes "The Greatest Gift" has two built-in markets: those who love the Frank Capra movie and those who'd love something unique on their coffee tables. "It won't be a flop," he said. "The price point is high, so it's going to be an exclusive buy, but there's certainly a market. People will spend $5,000 for a briefcase."

Graphic Image has already spent a few weeks on researching the project, bought an old font to match the type in the original booklet, and held a test run of some pages.

Glazer said he'll close his eyes to what will likely be a five-figure production cost.

"Fortunately, the type setting and printing is a one-man job until it's time to make the cover and bind it," he said. "That will prevent the cost from getting out of hand."

He hasn't decided how many copies to print.

Glazer thinks the limited edition will be a "collectible" to the "Ralph Lauren" type of buyer, someone who would appreciate old-time craftsmanship.

For him, he said, the pleasure is creating and holding something "so reminiscent of what people appreciated as an everyday item years ago."

 

 

At a glance

 

Company

Graphic Image, Melville

 

Employees

125 to 150, including part time

 

Sales

$10 million to $15 million a year

 

Customers

Martha Stewart, Michelle and Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Rachel Zoe and David Yurman

 

Brand alliances

Graphic Image has produced Lady Gaga leather bracelets, books for Santa's Workshop at Barney's, and Victoria's Secret wallets

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