All Things Wireless & Letterpress

All Things Wireless & Letterpress

Saturday, June 13, 2015

"Operation QSL" : Letterpress QSL Cards for the Vintage Station.

I thought "Surely . . . surely, in this world of re-invested technology from the past, in a world where the ancient Letterpress has come to almost dominate the Wedding Announcement / High End business card / Premium Stationery market . . . surely someone out there is regularly addressing the Amateur Radio community with QSL cards that correspond with the vintage/ quality/ nostalgia factor that obviously drives the "Boat Anchor" crowd.

I am amazed at the multiple thousands of vintage radio dollars which are exchanged daily either over or via eBay or Craigs List or at Hamfests or via the various News groups, FaceBook pages and Pinterest!  I myself have quite an investment in Hammarlund, Drake and vintage Yaesu equipment, not to mention a  Homebrew code station built following lines of the late 1930s QST projects.  Yes, I'm in that mix, too.  Which is why I want QSL cards and stationery to reflect that!

I already waxed lyrical over the art and tradition of the QSL card in a prior post.  In this installment, I would like to share what WD4NKA, the Staff and the Management at Paper Wren Press ( which houses WD4NKA!) is planning to do to address the "Vintage Wireless Stationery Void", with any luck and a bit of support - which is to . . .

. . . Offer a humble selection of vintage Letterpress QSL cards!  At a price that may not cover all our costs, but one that is fairly competitive with current prices. Cards that reflect not only your vintage, lovingly restored or meticulously hand built rigs, but also the Era when your fifty to sixty-pound gems were the State of the Art!  

The Project:

In general, I culled about twenty five years of QSL designs from 1919, and on into the War Years.  I identified what I believe to be primary design elements, most of which are pretty obvious.  For one, almost all are either balanced in their appearance by symmetry or by what we called in photography "Rule of Thirds", which balances asymmetry.   Normally the call letters are a pronounced complimentary colour, and more often than not, red.  Basic QSL information corresponds to what most log books of the era called for.  Unless you were an ARRL member and had the "diamond" printed, there were very few extraneous logos tacked on, although there were a few.  Just not enough to rise to the level of standard design.

They looked official.  They did not look like travel post cards like many do today.  They were not glitzy.  They were, in fact, almost spartan, save for the Otto Eppers and Phil Gildersleeve cards that were actually limited edition art cards!  (We are also contemplating an Otto Eppers design, btw.  Maybe Robert Crumb, too!)  

For those who do follow this blog regularly and are unfamiliar with Letterpress, let me share with you a video I made some time ago, showing myself printing a Wedding Announcement:

This second video shows a little about the actual Letterpress itself.  This is actually a short documentary of the Kluge that Nick Sambrata and myself got working at Mama's Sauce printery, Winter Park FL.

Needless to say, these old Iron Horses are amazing animals, and carried the bulk of the printing needs of the Western World for over one hundred years.

The Designs:

Here are the three designs we will be working with Owosso Graphics, Owosso MI, to produce in hardwood mounted copper:

This one is for the NRR folks.  But the design can be modified as a "custom order".  These cards have a pre-printed black shell containing the telegraph key design, title, and qsl info, and the morse code "nrr" that serves as the top and bottom borders.  This card will be standard post card size, 3.5 x 5.5 inches. 

This card is much more traditional, and is largely lifted from about three different pre-depression era QSL cards.  This has the traditional spaces to record your transmitter, receiver, power output and antenna (aerial) data.  This one is for the Dyed in the Wool 1929 "Post Cairo" op who designs his or her rig from the ground up.  Not for sissies!  This card will be standard post card size, 3.5 x 5.5 inches.

This card is more mid- 1930-ish, although examples exist as late as the 1960s.  There has always been a following for this card design, it seems.  My actual examples came from cards that immediately preceded the WW2 ban.  But I have seen these used even when I was a Novice in 1977!  I guess that would mean it's a "timeless" design, for a Timeless Station.  What do you think?

In Summary:

There are a number of QSL printers out there that do great work at a fraction of the prices I am asking.  That is the whole point of modern printing!  To drive down prices, and they do, for sure!  But not without sacrificing that tactile dynamic that can only be made by direct impression of a die or plate against paper.  And engraved plate, or handset metal type produces an effect that two generations have grown up never knowing.  
Probably the best way to describe the difference between modern printing and the ancient contact printing modes might to consider a high quality photocopy of a Dollar Bill.  Not that I am suggesting do this, it's illegal.  But if you held that photocopy in one hand and a real dollar bill in the other, you would know instantly which was real.

That's what we're after here.  At about sixty-cents per card for 250 2-colour cards.  $150.00, with a 2-3 week turnaround time. 
Well, this is what has been keeping our creative juices flowing at the Print Shop at WD4NKA / Paper Wren Press.  Hoping to hear back from some of you.  Contact me via Face Book or at my email box at or

More will be posted as we make progress with this project. Once again, Wireless meets Letterpress.

vy 73, de wd4nka.


  1. Are you still proceeding with this project? Looking forward to cards that will bring back the look of W8DED and C. Fritz.

    Paul, W9AC

  2. Hi, Paul! Here we are, almost a year later. Thank you for your order! As far as doing the above mentioned cards, it is still on the slate and drawing board, awaiting something like interest from the vintage/ Boat Anchor folks, which does not appear to be forthcoming.

  3. I too remember Russ Sakkers W8DED, Ye Olde Press WB9MPP and C Fritz and their beautiful cards. In the 1970s I printed letterpress QSL cards, enough to put me through college. In 2000 I decided to try it again on a sideline but larger than hobby-printer scale but sadly discovered ham radio...and hams...have changed. If they want cards at all, they want crappy cheap ones printed on flimsy paper (not card) stock. So I discontinued advertising and now just print them for myself. I wish you well and hope you discover a turnaround in the attitudes of the people who once placed great pride in having a nice QSL cards.