All Things Wireless & Letterpress

All Things Wireless & Letterpress

Letterpress QSL cards!

Ok, so you want a real, authentic Pre WW2 QSL.  You've seen those amazing, bold, mind-grabbing designs from the era of Fred Schell, Frank Jones and Ross Hull.  You may have seen the QSL of Reinartz's 1QP and thought "wow.  I'd like that."   How do you go about have your very own "legacy" QSL cards?

Two ways we go about that.  One way is to have me come up with a design for you.  The other way is to have your own design idea, and share it with me.  (Still another is  to have some digital replica made up.  Cheap.... but kinda like having a Collins made by Radio Shack.... or worse...)

Sharing your own design can be done in different ways.  One way is to e-mail me a photo of your design, or send me an image of a vintage card you might like to either copy or adapt.

A merging of the two methods might be: having a vintage design in mind, and having me design the adaptation.  This is, actually, the most common scenario at my studio/shop.  Older designs often revolved around call signs of different, often shorter character counts ( 1EA as opposed to WD4NKA might be an extreme example!) and so a design must needs modified.

The way in which data was recorded differed as well.  Once upon a time, Universal Coordinated Time (UTC) was not used, and there was no "RST".  Instead, there was local time and a general "QSA" and "R" system.  As such, more current adaptations are frequently employed. Sometimes, ops (operators) actually prefer the older systems.  I, myself, like a sort of combination of the two methods.

"Ok, so how do I do this?"

Once you contact me (via email, at, we discuss details, and (assuming) you decide upon a design, I begin the "laying out" process.  I will send you images of the work in progress.  These are .jpg "proofs".  When appropriate, I can also send proofs as .pdf files.  As I am using an ancient printing process on almost equally ancient presses, Letterpress, printed proofs are not made.  We send digital photo proofs instead. ( it costs nearly as much to set up and make one copy as it does two hundred copies!)  

Designs are first laid out in pencil on bristol board, then inked. Hand renderings are scanned and vectorized for plating which is executed either by our traditional plater in Owosso Michigan, or more lately as of 2017, Concorde, our laser cut polymer die maker.  These dies are not unlike the wood mounted letterpress dies (printing "plates") that were used over a century ago.  This is the same process that produced those awesome cards ...or most of them.... during the 20s through 40s, and even into the 50s.

Once we have the proper dies, and we secure the needed stock to cut and print, we begin the printing process.  Our old C&P letterpress is a hand-feeder,  thus each card gets individual attention.  Each colour must pass as an individual "run" through the press, which means a three colour card can take literally half a day to run.  That's the way these old systems run.  That's how it was done for your grand-dad (if he was a Ham using QSL cards, that is!)  Additional items such as Logos or special design additions often require a separate run.  There are very few short-cuts at this level of printing.

As mentioned, I always send photos of the process to the client as we move along.  However, if you are local to Volusia County Florida or within driving range, you are invited to come by and be part of the process!  I have had several clients pull the impression lever, and "place and draw" some of their own cards!  Operating with these old fly-wheel mechanical iron and steel presses is quite an experience, to say the least!

From start to finish, it usually takes about three to four weeks, from client approval to packing for shipment.  The design process can take anywhere from a day to a month....depending on the adjustments and tweeks from design stage to design stage.  It is a very custom process.

Here is are close-ups of my currently available designs.  The list is growing.

 KE9V's version of the "AC" Card

 The "AC" Card

 "AC" Card close-up

The above cards I call the "AC" cards, named in honour of W9AC.  I included more than one photo because these cards were ordered on Crane Lettra, and I wanted to show you just what Lettra is.  Lettra is what is called a "non calendered, open sized" stock.  This means that it has a soft, textured surface that is very tactile, and will "deboss", or leave the indentation of the printed design impressed upon it's surface, rendering a very tactile and almost three dimensional appearance.  This stock is also the preferred letterpress stock for very high-end wedding stationery, announcements, and very high quality business cards.  It is not cheap, but neither is it inordinately expensive as far as good papers and card stock goes.  The close-up in image "c" shows the depth of impression possible with Crane Lettra 110 lb stock.  Lettra is ball-point and typewriter friendly, but not fountain pen friendly.  But if you really want to leave a lasting impression with the recipient of your cards (no pun intended), this is the stock to use.

Prices for the "AC" two-color, single sided QSL Card:  
Using Crane Lettra (Pearl White, 110lb/330 gsm):
$275.00, 250 minimum order, plus shipping

Using standard "Hard Stock", smooth, authentic to the era:  
$195.00, 250 minimum order, plus shipping

All domestic orders are sent USPS Flat Rate.


The "PR" Card, (obverse)

The "PR" Card (reverse)

Above is a striking example of late 1930s Art Deco, a style featured at the 1939 World's Fair, heavily influenced by the popularity of Aereo Dynamic design, the "Stream-line look".  It was an era of great strides in the Aviation Industry, Howard Hughs was in his hey-day.  Architecture, furniture, graphic arts, and the Automobile industry capitalized on this design, as witnessed by the 1938 Chrysler Airflow, and the covered fenders of the streamline designed autos.  The two basic designs which dominated Modern Art Deco was the sphere and the obelisk.  Linear lines and sans serif type.  All of these elements are present in this card.  It could have been issued at the New York Worlds Fair, 1939.
I call it the "PR" card, named after the call of the first client to order this item.

The reverse side of this card contains all the QSL information, and if you look at the line on the very bottom, I leave a note of attribution to the actual designer of this card, Mel Wood, W6AVJ.  The card originally appeared as an ad in a 1933 issue of R9 Magazine.  It was only slightly adapted for current use.  This is the sort of thing I love to do.  It is printed on "Hard Stock", which was the typical stock used in the era which these cards depict.  It is a three-colour card with printing on the reverse which means it went though the press four times.  Not an inexpensive proposition, but where regular letterpress pricing would have this piece anywhere from 800 - 1200 bucks, I can keep the price pretty darned low, considering.

Prices for the "PR" three-color, double sided QSL Card:  
Using Crane Lettra (Pearl White, 110lb/330 gsm):
$425.00 , 250 minimum order, plus shipping

Using standard "Hard Stock" (recommended for this card), smooth, authentic to the era:
$350.00 , 250 minimum order, plus shipping.

All domestic orders are sent USPS Flat Rate.

The Basic "NRR" QSL Card.

This card is specifically offered to Novice Rig Round-up members at a reduced price.  It is a three-colour single sided card that features the "NRR" monogram in the center, in a sort of teal colour.  That colour can vary, it can be blue if a person wants.  But otherwise the colours are standardized.  A note about that J38 key silhouette: it was drawn from my own J38, which was a Railroad key.  I was trying to find a nice vectorized silhouette image on line, and I was just not coming up with anything satisfactory: the keys available as vector art were more caricatures than actual key images.  I wanted the real thing.  Here it is!  You will not find my key image on line!  It is proprietary to Paper Wren Press and Q5 Letterpress.  This is the same key that graced the first three NRR certificates of participation during our first three annual NRR events.  (Those certificates were ALSO letterpress printed, btw!)

Hey!  Did you notice the border on the top and bottom?  What's it say??

Prices for the "NRR" three-color, single sided QSL Card:  
Using Crane Lettra (Pearl White, 110lb/330 gsm):
$275.00 , 250 minimum order, plus shipping

Using standard "Hard Stock", smooth, authentic to the era:
$195.00 , 250 minimum order, plus shipping.

All domestic orders are sent USPS Flat Rate.

I am adding this photo to show you what the NRR card looks like when Logos and/ or numbers are included.  On this particualr card for Richard, the NRR Monogram and NRR number appears on the left, the SKCC Logo and member number appears on the right.  Care must be taken with these add-ons to prevent upsetting the symmetry of the design.  That is.... if you are sensitive to that sort of thing.  I am.  Sorry, but I'm the printer.  I lose sleep over this stuff. 

The "SKK" Card

"Do I have to have that NRR monogram?"  No.... you don't have to have that NRR monogram.  So, enter, the "SKK" QSL card design.  So named for the client that asked me to drop the NRR Diamond from the design because... well, he wasn't a member of Novice Rig Round-up!  But he loved the design and that J38.  The "SKK" card is not an NRR specific card, ergo it falls under normal princing.

Prices for the "SKK" two-color, single sided QSL Card:  
Using Crane Lettra (Pearl White, 110lb/330 gsm):
$275.00, 250 minimum order, plus shipping

Using standard "Hard Stock", smooth, authentic to the era:  
$195.00, 250 minimum order, plus shipping

All domestic orders are sent USPS Flat Rate. 

The "CMK" QSL card

Again, so named after the first client to order this card.  The call and address is very close to the NRR card design, and it sports the same J38 silhouette.  It is a more modern design, however, as can be seen by the logbook style data fields.  While this is not a particularly "vintage" design (more like the 1960s, really...) it is nonetheless a very pleasing design with classical notes and overtones.  Note the FISTS Logo and the ARRL Diamond.  I hand drew these logos, I didn't like the artwork available.  Man, I hate cheesy, over-copied logos and artwork.  Just.... just.... lemmee do my own!  Not to toot my own horn but I think I do a little better job at it.  So did K4CMK, apparently.

Prices for the "CMK" two-color, single sided QSL Card:  
Using Crane Lettra (Pearl White, 110lb/330 gsm):
$275.00, 250 minimum order, plus shipping

Using standard "Hard Stock", smooth, authentic to the era:  
$195.00, 250 minimum order, plus shipping

All domestic orders are sent USPS Flat Rate. 

Regarding Other Designs and Custom Designs:

Do you have a particular vintage card you would like designed and adapted for your station?  I can do this in most cases involving high contrast images (which is what cards from the 20s and 30s tend to be!)  Sometimes I can simply adapt one of my already existing designs.  However sometimes this involves a ground-up design, generating artwork, vectorizing, involving quite a bit of time at the "board".  This will affect the price.  I do not charge regular design rates which are typically above $90.00 per hour.  The last two-colour ground up design QSL card I made just last week for an international client added about $60.00 - I try to keep the rates low.  But design rates will vary.  Contact me with the details regarding the design you wish.

So, how do I come up with my prices?   (Probably more info than you need to know.)

Prices are derived from the cost of dies, paper, custom inks, and other needed materials.  I charge less than half my normal rate for design time for fellow hams, and labour charges are greatly reduced and in some cases, such as press prep... omitted.  We call this a "Ham Net", which is about half the fee I charge for an equivalent wedding announcement or any other printed piece of this size and involvement.  As such, all the prices shown on this blog are "Ham Net".

We hope in time - as interest and support grows for this sort of thing - to offer pre-printed designs that would permit only one or two dies to be ordered for call sign and address, which would in turn further reduce the cost of Letterpress Vintage QSL cards.

What follows is a discussion about Costs:

First, we are using two types of paper.  One type is the more authentic light buff hard surface 90 lb card stock.  This paper is fountain pen and typewriter friendly, which would have been used in the 1920s through 1950s, for the reason that fountain pens were the pen type used before the day of the Ball Point. Many hams chose to type, rather than write out their cards, thus the card stock used had to be able to physically fit into the typewriter!  If you fall in this category, this would be the paper we recommend. I call this "Hard Stock"

The second type such as was used in the photos of the "AC" card: Crane Lettra, 110lb "Pearl".  This paper is what we use for our fine press announcements and business cards.  It is a very velvety, dense stock that leaves that nice indentation, or "deboss" which you see in the photos.  It really leaves a stunning image!  This paper will cause free-flow ink ( fountain pen or calligraphy dip pens) to bleed, however it can handle ball point pens quite nicely, and can even be photo imaged. It may, however, be a tad thick for the trusty Remington or Royal ( typewriters ).  But if you want a stunning card that can ONLY be produced via the ancient Letterpress, this is the stock to get.   This paper has the distinction of being the same stock Crane sells to the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing - sans silk fibers - for currency.  It is 100% cotton.

While my QSL card prices are relatively standardized, the process is nonetheless custom printing, and as such final costs are utlimately arrived at per individual order, and can vary according to certain design elements or certain added features a client may wish to add.

To inquire or initiate an order, drop me a line at:

I take payment by PayPal.  

Mail to

Turnaround time averages three to four weeks.  This is owing to the time it takes to have the printing dies made and the paper shipped in, plus the time-intense process of letterpress printing itself.

Thank you, and I hope to hear from you, soon.

73, de wd4nka!

Here is a short video which shows a bit of the process of Letterpress Printing.  It was taken during the printing of W9AC's QSL card :

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