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Claremont's Most Im(press)ive Place

October 3, 2010

Erica Bellman
Claremont's Most Im(press)ive Place

No one visits the fortress of Honnold-Mudd Library for fun and games.  When we climb the stairs up to the fourth floor’s silent zone or the musty chambers of the Asian Studies wing, we mean business.  But good old Honnold-Mudd’s got a secret hidden in its depths: the First-Floor Press.

To the left of the café’s barista is the lair of Harvey Mudd Literature professor Jeff Groves.  Bespectacled, bearded, and donning a denim apron, Professor Groves presides over the First-Floor Press and its six 19th-century printing presses. Here, Professor Groves instructs Claremont students in the art of printing.  Each semester, Groves teaches a workshop that students can take for credit.  From business cards to calendars, from recipe cards for Aunt Jane’s kugel to poster-sized Ginsberg poems, the impressive projects of Groves’ students decorate the pint-sized place.

Groves started the Press in 2007, after being inspired to do so by a Scripps class on the history of books and the “book arts” which he audited while on sabbatical.  The class was an epiphany for Groves—he decided to devote his energy to starting a printing press, a rarity in the modern era.  Only one thing stood in the way of Groves’ nerdy but surprisingly thrilling dream: money.  “As luck would have it,” Groves explains with twinkling eyes, “a Mellon Grant and a certain Dr. Ed Petco made the First-Floor Press possible.”

Something of a legend in Groves’ world, Petco is the proud but aged owner of the Press’ cornerstone machine, a mammoth Columbian Eagle Press from 1850.  Cast-iron and topped with an enameled bald eagle, this press intimidates and inspires awe.  Groves uncovered this first press while sifting through storage in Honnold-Mudd.  With Dr. Petco’s press, a little TLC, and funding to buy additional presses, type, and other materials, the First-Floor Press was up and running.  “It’s fantastic how each press has its own history,” Groves notes.  “I found this press in a village in Idaho…it belonged to a man who was killed by a car while stumbling out of a pub.” Groves clearly has a passion for printing.

At first, the presses seem daunting: they’re immense, technical, and require knowledge of a language only true printers can speak.  Cheek, frisket, platen, girth, spindle…what?!  But when Professor Groves unearths a foldout book he’s hand-bound and printed, the effect is magical.  For bookworms and lovers of vintage kitsch, the First-Floor Press is a resource in need of use.  Next time your brain needs a break from O-Chem or Econ, check out the Press for a trip back in time… or sign up for Groves’ workshop next semester.

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