Robert Warner: Master Printer

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Master Printer at the South Street Seaport MUSEUM's Bowne and Co. Stationers

Robert Warner has been themaster printer for 17 yearsat Bowne and Co Stationers, a modestly sized stationerystore and printing press thatis part of the South Street Seaport Museum.

This piece of New York City historystands on cobble stoned sidewalks, givingNew Yorkers and tourists alike a littletaste of the 19th century, with its hand-crankedprinting presses. Back whenprinters were tradesmen, not machineshooked up to computers, press printingwas a skill and a trade essential to Downtown,which has always been a printing,publishing and finance district.

What does Bowne and Co offer the Downtowncommunity?

This community that's down here isunlike any other community. There's aschool and then there's all these businessesand then there's all these oldbuildings, which some people haveinhabited and restored-there is a wholesense of renewal and community in thispart of the city. This is where New Yorkbegins.

We have to learn from our history,preserve it and actually embrace a neighborhoodso many people have passedthrough, like Herman] Melville and[Walt] Whitman and Joseph Mitchell.

What do people expect when they walkin or pass it by?

When people enter the shop, oftentimesthey say, "Oh, it reminds me of theway my grandparents' house smells."And I'll ask, "Well, were they printers?"and they say, "No, it's the wood." I'm soused to the smell of the wood after 17years that I barely notice it.

[When I first started here] I just lovedwalking in and smelling the ink and theoils. There were two women in the backprinting and there was a sense of industryand tradition. I want to continueto convey that. I like people to have anexperience when they visit here that theywouldn't have in any other store.

Why does printing matter?

This neighborhood was the printingand publishing district for many, many years. And as much as we'd like to thinkthat we're a paperless society, we stillrely on paper now. Ink on paper is all themore beautiful when it's letterpressedbecause it leaves a kiss onthe paper and an impressionon the page.

I am a firm believerthat humans need the humantouch, which is whatBowne and Co. Stationersdoes. You can buy a handmade$3 card here-whyspend $4.50 at a Duane Reade on a glossy AmericanGreetings card?

[caption id="attachment_14685" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Photo Credit: Patricia Voulgaris"][

Do you have any letterpressworkshops comingup to get some peoplecoming in? You have topass on the printing traditioneventually, right?

Occasionally I doworkshops. The nextone will be letterpresscollage, and I'd like to do it weekly. Workshopssound so serious, like youhave to work. I just wantpeople to experience paperand composition. It'snot really playtime either,it's an assemblage, butpeople don't really knowthe word assemblage.

I could consider thenext generation, take onan intern, pass on myknowledge. I'll do whatI can, but being here,unlocking the door andhaving normal business hours, people know anddepend on me to comehere. I'm not expectingmillions of people-Idon't know if I want aglobal network. I think Downtown is enough.

What's the appeal of an antiquated letterpress,especially in this technologicalage where everything is on a screen?

[The letterpress] is hand-operatedand hand set, so every letter is anindividual body of type. You can print500 copies from one letterpress and 200of them might be very similar, but thebeauty of it is that they're never going tobe exactly the same. It's the differencebetween something that is hand-embroideredand something that is machinemade.

What's beautiful about printing onletterpress is the ability of the viewer toactually see a hand process.I think more and more, the way thepublic views a computer screen or a tablet,people long to actually feel paper andrun their finger across it. I know that the Kindle is very important because peopleare reading it and it's accessible, but I'venoticed that when people pick up paperor books, they run their finger across itand you see them taking it in. People willalways hunger for something that has atexture to it.

Bowne and Co. Stationers, 211 Water St. (betw.Fulton and Beekman Sts.), 212-748-8651

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