This letter was originally published to the LetterPress Printing Forum in 2012.
I have included it here as part of this online archive about the history of Ambrosi Printers.

 

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My Dear Friends

There has been much discussion on the topic of edible inks of late. These inks are not so much edible as non poisonous inks. They are made from as benign materials as the ink chemists can find.

We printed small labels for the local meat markets here in Regina on many an occasion. We first did these many years ago when I first started my apprenticeship.

All of this printing was done on a paper that was known as “butter wrap,” and was used exclusively to wrap butter in and to label pieces of meat. This is so far back that it pre-dated the legal sale of margarine here in Regina.

The ink was just known as “butter wrap ink,” and the paper was known just as “butterwrap”, and all the printers used it. The paper was some sort of parchment that was very carefully made for this use of labelling food or, as I said, wrapping butter.

The beauty of this paper was that it would naturally stick to meat; there was no adhesive, it just stuck. Many if not all of the local butchers bought whole chickens and turkeys and cut them up to pieces; but they then had to label the pieces. Especially as to if they were grade A or B or the so called Utility grades, and we printed labels stating just that. We used very large type and the wording was very short and the point. Just Grade A or Grade B or Utility.

The size of the label was very small. I seem to remember about inch and a half square. And I also seem to remember some of the labels were triangular in shape. My Dad had a grand old time cutting triangles on our paper cutter. Lots of waste paper on the margins.

I cannot now remember if the runs were long. Most likely not as these were only local butcher shops. But this line of work was avidly sought after and the competition price wise was fierce.

We mostly took payment partly in money and partly in meat.

My Dad’s brother-in-law ran a mixed farm just south of Regina and we bought a lot of meat and eggs and cream from them. We got a very good price and whilst I do not know this for a certainty, I am pretty sure that if it was not for relatives selling farm produce at low prices, we would have been in a big pickle. Certainly not starving, but some days would have been very thin. Very thin indeed.

I am now fully 75 years of age and as such I do not have much or perhaps any direct memory of the Depression or as we called it here the Dirty Thirties, but I do have a lot of second hand memories from my Dad and Mother and other relatives.

My Dad had a very tough time of it then. I still have some copies of his income tax returns and our shop did just over 1000.00 of work in a year. I still have all the Trading Profit and Loss Statements for the period of 1930 to 1940 and the figures are just amazing.

Our shop at that time was very small. There was one 8 x 12 and one 12 x 18 hand fed and one old cylinder and perhaps 100 cases of type and some stones and tables and a desk and two or three chairs and not much else. And small 34 inch wide hand clamp paper cutter. A foot power Portland Punch and a matching perforator, made up our shop. I grew up in this shop. There was no such thing as a baby sitter in those days and when the shop was busy, I just got taken to work and put in corner with some paper and a pencil. I learned the alphabet well before I went to school and practised it all the time at my Dad’s shop. I was essentially born into a printing shop. It is the only life and job that I have ever had.

I so clearly remember my Dad telling me that he got a telephone request one day, (during the Depression) for a quote for 500 letterheads and got reamed out because he was not able to get over the customer in person and get the order in person. The amount was for $2.25 cents. Dad told me that he quoted $2.50 and got bawled out a second time for price gouging and had to reduce the price to $2.25.

Ah yes, the good old days. It was all letterpress printing then, and just as hard as hard scrabble as life could be.

One day I might mention about my Dad acquiring the first offset press in this province, but as this is a Letterpress List, I might not have the nerve. Har, har about that last sentence.

Kindest regards to all.

Phil Ambrosi,

Phil Ambrosi, born during the Dirty Thirties in western Canada where the wind never stops blowing, during a world wide depression and grew up in a province that most people do not know anything about except that it has a funny name, or even where it is, and I never stop bragging and talking about it.

 

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Printing ButterWrap- memories from the 50s

Updated on 2015-06-03T14:37:30+00:00, by Ramb.