A Letterpress Printed Whole Bible Devotional

A Letterpress Printed Whole Bible Devotional

From Eric R Coates

I'm raising funds to produce a letterpress printed devotional. It will feature a selection from each book of the Bible, submitted by believers from around the world and printed on a 1895 Reliance press in hand set type.

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The Glory of God is universal. The great commission calls on us to make the Gospel global. This is what we live for, work for, pray for, and live our lives as witnesses to Christ for. One of the powerful tools we can use to strengthen our faith and that of others is a devotional. That is what I want to create through this project. But a type of devotional that is relatively uncommon – one that draws on each book of the Bible with verses and commentary submitted by believers from across the globe.

Beyond the universal aspect of this devotional, my vision is to make this devotional timeless in its craft. To that end, I will bring another skill and passion to this project – letterpress printing. This I have been letterpress printing almost 40 years. I have rescued and restored presses for almost 20 years and now have 5. This project will be printed on a beautiful 1895 Reliance hand iron press of the style of press Gutenberg and Franklin would know how to use. But, while I have the press, the experience and some of the handset type that will be used, the goal of this campaign is to raise $2,500 to purchase additional type and set aside the time needed for this project. However, once completed, as the frames containing the type will not be broken down, this book can be printed as many times as need be.

How Will The Passages Be Selected

To select the text, I will ask believers in all steps of their faith from every continent and walk of life to submit a verse or passage and explain why it is impactful to them. I use the word impactful because it allows the verse to be uplifting or convicting. I feel strongly that we should be both convicted and uplifted by the Bible. Convicted because we should be convicted to live our lives ever more in Christ’s image. And uplifting because as we live in His image, we see the impact of God’s love, gain a deeper understanding of our faith and Christ’s saving grace and often see more evidence of God’s work in our lives and the lives of others. By drawing on the experiences of believers from across the globe, who come from very different backgrounds, and by taking passages from every book of the Bible, it is my hope the devotional reflects that all-encompassing universal character of the Bible and God’s love.

Why the Whole Bible?

One of the beautiful aspects of the Bible is how every book, every chapter, every verse and indeed, every word fits together like a puzzle. But often, devotionals draw heavily from the more popular books like the Psalms or Matthew while leaving out the more challenging books like Judges or the brief writings of the minor prophets. But every book and word of the Bible - every - is divinely inspired. This is why the goal of this project is to create a Bible encompassing devotional submitted by believers every continent - a truly all-encompassing devotional.

How the Devotional Will Be Printed?

My goal is to not only make this devotional encompassing, but enduring. One way to do this is to pay as much attention to the message as the craft. This book will be printed as books have been for centuries, on a letterpress with handset type. There is something timeless about a well-crafted book. It lasts, gaining character as it is used generation after generation.  It would be easy enough to have this book printed by a modern printer, but I don’t think it would have the same meaning – the same impact. I might be able to explain it this way.

In college, I had a professor - Dr. Reverend - who related a story about seeing pages for a book letterpress printed at the Oxford University press. He remarked that after the printer pulled a sheet off the press, made of cotton linen paper into which the letters were deeply impressed, and said "now that has staying power." So that is how this devotional will be printed.

Printing – The Technical Details

To get more technical, this devotional will be printed on a 19 century Paul Schneidewend Reliance hand iron press. I rescued this press from an abandoned print shop in Kentucky in 2014. Now fully restored, it is the perfect platform for this work.

This devotional will be, in print speak, a quarto. This means that each page printed on the press will be folded to become 8 pages in the devotional. I know that quarto means four, but this refers to the number of pages after folding, not the number of printed pages in the book, 8 because each page has two printed sides. This devotional will be printed in two colors – black for the principle text and red for initial drop capitals, decorative text, flourishes and any direct word of God, a convention that dates back at least a millennium. Printing in two colors means that for each 8 page spread, 2 chases (the frame that holds the type and blocks to be printed) will be constructed and the type for the pages to be printed in either black or red set. Each sheet will be printed twice, once for black and once for red.

After printing, the pages will be collated, hand sewn and bound in the same way books have been for centuries. A great reference for this craft is Keith Smith’s text Books Without Paste or Glue, a work I studied in college. The goal is to create a devotional that that is timeless in its character and quality.

My Experience in Letterpress Printing

I started letterpress printing in 1983 when I was 8. That year, for Christmas, my parents gave me a Kelsey Excelsior printing press and a few founts of type. I was enthralled. Until school resumed after that winter break, as (as I am sure they were) my school friends played with the toys of the year or video games they got that Christmas, I learned how to set type in a chase, clean an maintain a press and make my own wood blocks. Fast forward to college. I attended the University of Wyoming where I majored in English. Driven by interest in printing and its history, I volunteered at the University’s rare book library. There, I gained an appreciation of the craft of printing in a way I had not before. I understood from my own experience the effort it took to print just a few pages so I was in awe of the effort it must have taken early printers to produce the books I worked with every day.  To learn more about printing and its history, I narrowed my area of study within English to book history and the history of printing. In my senior capstone Book Arts class, I produced a series of letterpress printed works, ranging from a simple broadside of Robert Frost’s poem A Dust of Snow to a chapbook featuring a woodblock print and verse for each month of the year. I left college with a much deeper understanding for the craft, history and importance of printing.

Today, I rescue, restore and use antique letterpresses. I produce prints that I donate to support our and other Church’s mission projects. When I can, I use my presses to teach letterpress printing.  At the most recent talk I gave before our Church's Awana students (I've made several on difference topics), I set up a press and spoke about the development of printing and its importance to Protestantism. I showed the students how to set type by hand, the same way Gutenberg would have. Then, each student got to print their own copy of Awana's guide verse  - Timothy 2:15. Through this, the students learned the astonishing effort it took to print a book in the centuries after Gutenberg, how important the invention of printing was, and I hope gained a new appreciation of how privileged we are to have almost immediate access to not only the Bible, but almost every piece of written information.

What Your Donations Will Be Used For

Donations to this project will be used to purchase the type necessary to print this devotional. My vision for this book is to not print the individual page spreads and then breaking down the chases and reusing the type for the next spread, but rather to keep the chases intact. This practice dates to the earliest decades of printing, when early printers quickly found that it was easier, and took less time, to cast more type than it did to reset the pages for a book if the printer wanted to print a later edition. To make this book printable for years and decades to come, the same practice will be followed, with a chase for each page and color set until more than 264 will be constructed and set. Building on the type I have, the projected cost for the type is $2,500.

How Will This Devotional Be Available?

When my printing supports mission or Church work, I’ve never charged and I do not intend to do so for this devotional. Rather, everything has been available donation only. Simply give what your moved to give – either a monetary donation or a commitment to service. Last Easter, I printed a broadside to support a mission our Church work with in Zambia. I had one person say that they could not afford a donation but I will commit to serve a meal at the rescue mission. I was touched because isn’t that what this is all about. And if something I have printed moves someone, strengthens their faith, but they have not a penny to their name, then I’ll gladly give it to them God’s blessing. That will be how I approach this project. The devotional will be available online for a donation, for a commitment to service, or simply a prayer.

Thank you for your time and consideration of this project.

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