Bruce A. Walker is retired Chairman of the Board and a former 50% owner of Valco Graphics, Inc. a Seattle communications company specializing in high quality printing, mailing and fulfillment services. Before joining Valco in 1987, Mr. Walker represented Anderson Lithograph of Los Angeles in the Pacific Northwest market for four years. Prior to that he had a twenty-four year career with another Seattle printing firm, United Graphics, Inc. (Later purchased by Banta Corporation) where he resigned in 1983 as president.
Mr. Walker is a native of Seattle, graduating from the University of Washington with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1956. The following three years he served as a pilot in the United State Air Force and was honorably discharged in October of 1959.
During the past 50 years, Mr. Walker has participated in a variety of professional, and community activities. They are as follows:
Board Member and President - Sigma Nu Chapter House Association
Board Member and President - Friends of Youth (Griffin Home for Boys)
Member of the Finance Committee - Re-elect Joel Pritchard to U.S. Congress and to
Lt. Governor / State of Washington
Area Chairman - United Way of King County (6 years)
Division Chairman - United Way of King County (1 year)
Board Member and President - President’s Club - Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce
Board Member and Vice President of Membership - Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce (2 years)
Board member and Chairman (two years) - Puget Sound Chapter March of Dimes
Board Member and President - Friends of the Seattle Public Library
Board Member and President - Kiwanis Club of Downtown Seattle
Board Member - Seattle Pacific University Society of Fellows
Member - Executive Advisory Council, School of Business, Seattle Pacific University
Member - University of Washington President’s Club
Board Member and Chairman of the Board - Washington Athletic Club
Board Member - Outward Bound
Seattle Printing History Since 1959
(As One Old Printer Recalls It)
By Bruce A. Walker
On October 15, 1959, having just been released by the Air Force following the completion of my three-year active duty obligation, I began work as a commissioned printing salesman for Frank Pritchard, Jr., the manager of the North Pacific Bank Note Company in Seattle. At that time I could not have imagined that, more than starting my first real job since graduating from the University of Washington, I was embarking on what was to become a forty-five year career in graphic arts and with it the good fortune to meet and to enjoy the company of countless fine people in the industry from coast to coast. I am delighted that Larry Coffman asked me to write a brief history for Marketing since reflecting on the people and events that shaped our industry during the last half of the twentieth century has been a pleasant trip down memory lane.
The Lay of the Land
In order to set the stage for the stories to follow I will first attempt to briefly describe the processes and technology employed at the time. During the ten years or so prior to my entry into the business, conventional printing transitioned from a letterpress-dominated technology to one featuring offset lithography as king. Yet, as I entered the industry many of the older buyers continued to believe that offset was still a lesser-quality substitute for fine letterpress despite the fact that we could produce color samples that were not only competitive to letterpress quality, but in many cases, superior. The complaint we heard most often from these naysayers was that litho blacks were really dark grey when compared to quality letterpress output. We were well into the sixties before offset was universally accepted in the Northwest as the standard for quality commercial color printing. The transition to offset was equally slow in the national publication market for all the same concerns regarding quality, plus the costs associated with press replacement and the retraining of personnel.
These were the days before scanners were on the scene, hence color separations were made on the camera using a series of filters to produce the cyan, yellow, magenta and black (CYMK) negatives from which litho plates could be made. Color correction was a process of dot etching on screened positives or negatives and required the experienced touch of skilled craftspeople. To proof in color prior to going on press printers had just been introduced to a new overlay product from the 3-M Company called “Color-Key”. A Color-Key proof consisted of four separate sheets of acetate, each with the same image in one of the CYMK colors. The four layers were then pinned in register and mounted to a white sub-strait thereby providing a pleasing, but not a very accurate representation of the final product. Since the four layers of acetate dulled and distorted the color, the only safe method of proofing the reproduction faithfulness to the original copy was a press proof, a process in which the press was prepared for actually printing the job, but only a few sheets were produced. Because the press proof was produced on a two-color press the process was further complicated in that proof sheets had to be put through the press twice. The press was then washed up and made ready for the next job.
This was a very expensive proofing method, but was for many years the only certain way to see if the finished product would meet the customer’s expectation. New color proofing systems came on the market over the years, but it was not until the nineties that these systems actually replaced press proofs. On the better quality work sometimes as many as two or three rounds of press proofs were required with color correction between each round to assure customer satisfaction. To make matters worse, press technology at the time was such that there were usually color and register variation within the run necessitating a careful search for “perfect” samples to show the customer. Occasionally none could be found that matched the sheet on which the customer had given his or her okay at the beginning of the run. As the reader might imagine, these circumstances caused a great deal of stress for both the customer and the salesperson, sometimes reaching all the way up to the manager or shop owner in order to resolve the problem to the customer’s satisfaction.
Only a few of the larger shops could afford to make their own separations as skilled craftsmen capable of satisfying customers were few and far between. And since Seattle’s few trade color houses did only somewhat “ordinary quality work”, many of the smaller and even mid-sized shops avoided process color work altogether. That condition changed dramatically in 1970 when Cord Harms Zum Spreckel, a color specialist trained in Austria, left his employer, Metropolitan Press and opened his own business, Color Control. His enterprise flourished from the beginning, both because of the excellent product quality his firm achieved and the fact that he gave ownership of the color separations and stripped film flats to the customer at the completion of the job. In contrast, separations and stripped film flats made by a printer at that time were usually claimed by the printer to be his property, a practice that alienated customers who felt that when paying the printer to produce these materials they were entitled to ownership; without it the customer felt “locked in” to that shop and unable to secure competitive bids in the event a rerun was required. For these reasons as well as Harms Zum Spreckel’s personal magnetism and confidence-inspiring manner, his business grew rapidly and soon his firm was doing work for many of the nation’s large catalog merchandisers, department stores and other major color print buyers. Because of the complexity and cost to print in full color many advertisers felt they simply could not justify the expense and produced their printed requirements in either one or two colors.
Before the mid-sixties, no printer in Seattle operated a sheet-fed press that printed more than two colors on one side at the same time. Process-color work was produced by first laying down two colors on a two-color press and then putting the sheets back through the press to pick up the second two colors. Obviously, this process limited the pressman’s ability to make the color adjustments requested by the customer since two of the colors had already been printed and the pressman had only the remaining two with which to work. Again, customers were often disappointed when they saw the final product.
The West Coast was a graphic arts union stronghold during the sixties and well into the seventies. There were two principal unions with press and pre-press jurisdiction and both were national – even international - in their reach. The more powerful of the two unions, was the Graphic Arts International Union (GAIU), sometimes called “The Litho Union”. The GAIU was particularly strong in Seattle and used their strength to bargain some of the highest labor rates and generous benefit packages in the nation. The other union known as the “Printing Pressmen” focused its activity pretty much on the letterpress shops; however, a few of those shops grew and prospered maintaining their relationships with the Printing Pressmen since the terms of those contracts were more favorable than what was negotiated with the GAIU. Two examples were Craftsman Press in Seattle and Print NW, whose employees were represented by the Tacoma local of the Printing Pressman’s Union. Both negotiated wage, benefit and work rule packages that were consistently leaner than the GAIU contracts to which their competitors were bound. Our shop, North Pacific Bank Note Company, was under contract with both the GAIU and Printing Pressman, the latter with jurisdiction over our two small Meihle vertical letterpresses. We also had contracts with the Typographical Union and the Book Binders. During the fifties the Typographical Union was extremely strong, but began to rapidly fade as alternative typesetting technologies were developed and brought on line. (Eventually the Typographical Union filed for bankruptcy leaving many of its member’s pensions at risk while the Bookbinders merged with the GAIU giving them considerably more clout.) Nearly all of those in the local GAIU leadership were employed at North Pacific Bank Note…I don’t know how we were so lucky!
Typesetting options at that time provided the customer with limited choices. The preferred typesetting method of buyers seeking a quality result was “hot metal”, a term used to describe type produced on a Linotype, Monotype, or Ludlow machine. In the case of the Linotype, the most commonly employed of the three, the machine operator typed on a keyboard from a manuscript. As he typed, small alphabetical or numerical brass molds called “matrixes” or “mats” slid from a container or “magazine” mounted atop the machine into juxtaposition on a rack about six inches wide. Once all the characters were in place on the rack molten lead was poured into the mold. After cooling, the product of this process was termed a “slug”. Once slugs were created containing all the text material they were combined with the headline or “hand set” type and locked into a steel frame called a “chase”. During the letterpress days the press operator printed directly from the locked-up chase. If the page contained other elements such as artwork, photos, etc., a metal engraving or “cut” of the artwork or picture had to be made by an engraving house and then mounted on a wood block to bring it to the same height as the surrounding “slugs” The combined type and engravings were then assembled in the chase in their proper position. Whether the job was to print offset, or letterpress the typesetter would generate a black and white impression of the chase content called a “rough proof” for proof reading. If the job was to run offset a “reproduction proof” (“repro proof”) was then made to combine with other job elements on a “paste-up” and then “shot” in the camera to produce a film negative which was then assembled or “stripped” with other negatives into a “flat” from which the litho plate was made. Both rough and repro proofs were produced on a special hand operated proof press designed for that purpose. All proofs downstream from the paste-up stage (blue-lines, Color-Keys, etc) were produced from the stripped film.
Just about all hot metal type was produced by members of the Typographical Union, thus hot metal type was expensive. The only two alternatives to hot metal in the early sixties were Veri-type and IBM “Selectric”, neither of which matched the quality of hot metal, but were less expensive as they were almost always produced by non-union labor. All methods of typesetting other than hot metal were labeled “cold type”. During the sixties a third method of cold type was developed, type made photographically. However, early versions of photographically produced type were problematic and it would be some time before this technology was competitive. Remember, these were somewhat primitive times - no copy or fax machines, cell phones or many of the other office and production tools we now take for granted.
Whose Who at the Zoo?
What follows is a rambling rundown identifying most of the printing companies doing business in Seattle in 1959 (in a few cases companies mentioned began subsequent to 1959 and a few prior), what happened to each, and a word or two about the principal players, both owners and employees. For obvious reasons, only those shops of large or medium size (relative to how we defined those terms at that time) are mentioned except where a smaller shop either grew significantly or played a role in a merger or acquisition resulting in them becoming mid-sized or larger. In each case I have attempted to trace the shop’s genealogy going forward from the ‘fifties or from whatever period it began. It has been my earnest desire and effort to be factual, but certainly some of what follows must be classified as opinion, although it is opinion based upon close observation and in many cases, conversations with the principals involved. Where my memory fails me I will so state.
The reader will note that there is considerably more detail surrounding the North Pacific Bank Note / United Graphics story than the other histories. In defense I offer that it is an interesting story of corporate dynamics and it is the story of which I have the most intimate knowledge - hence, I make no apologies for its length or detail.
Before launching into the histories of individual companies, it is also important to mention the role of women in printing during this period. As the second half of the twentieth century began, women’s opportunities in the graphic arts industry were, for the most part, limited to administrative roles such as accounting, job costing and purchasing. Occasionally a very capable woman might land a job in estimating, pre-press assembly (stripping) or production, but such a jump was a rarity. I am not aware of a single woman in Seattle in a sales position when I began my career nor were there any female owners or high level managers…clearly, at that time it was a male dominated industry. Little by little women crept into these better paying positions beginning in the late sixties and as they did they performed very well. The transition was gradual and by the mid-eighties and early nineties women were emerging as a very competent and competitive work force in all but the manual labor categories of employment. I would venture a guess that today the industry may even employee more women than men, certainly I believe that to be the case with regard to salespeople.
Some of the early stars that led the way in breaking the “glass ceiling” deserve mention and I give recognition to five who in my opinion proved that women can perform at or above the level of their male counterpart: Jeniene Plows (sales and production), Susan Bernauer (sales and sales management), Lolly Bates (sales and plant management), Lynn Meyers (sales) and Jean Walker (no relation) in top management.. Surely there are many more that helped blaze the trail, but in my association with the industry these five are certainly representative of the mindset-change that took place as the century came to an end.
As you read through this material please forgive any inaccuracies as they certainly are unintentional. Let’s begin with Craftsman Press as it was the largest printer in the area at the time.
Craftsman Press was purchased by Dick Lea in the late thirties or early forties and over most of its years of operation was blessed with a robust relationship with the Boeing Company. Like all other firms in the area utilizing offset production, its early press equipment was all sheet-fed, but a major event took place in the fifties that altered the course of both its manufacturing and marketing in a significant way. A competitor, Western Printing Company, owned in the main by Roscoe “Torchy” Torrance (Read “Torchy” by Bob Karolevitz - 1981), learned that Triangle Publications, a Philadelphia firm owned by Walter Annenberg for whom Torchy was printing the Northwest regional edition of the Daily Horse Racing form was establishing a new weekly magazine called “TV Guide” and were contracting with printers all over the country to produce regional additions. Torchy jumped on a plane and visited with Annenberg and his people and managed to land the contract for the Pacific Northwest region. When he asked the people at Triangle Publications what press they felt was best to efficiently print the publication they gave him what turned out to be a poor recommendation – a vertical sheet-fed perfecting press (a press that prints both sides of the sheet at the same time). Torchy experienced problems with the machine, and when the contract came up for renewal a few years later Craftsman won the business by proposing that TV Guide be printed on a web offset press and they were awarded the contract. This turned out to be the perfect machine for that purpose and Craftsman built its business around web offset production, adding new machines as their sales grew. Craftsman attracted good people. Among their staff making significant contributions to their growth and profitability were President, Ron Renny, Vice President of Manufacturing, Bill Stover, Vice President, Sales, Jim Abbott and long-time associate, Merv Bailey. Four of their most successful sales people included Lea’s son, Dick Lea, Jr., Howard Vierling, Howard McAllister and Bryant Cameron.
The press Torchy purchased combined with the loss of the TV Guide contract caused his business to suffer and he accepted an offer to merge Western Printing into another major Seattle printing company of the day, Metropolitan Press. The newly merged firm’s name was changed to Metropolitan Press and Western Printing.
Metropolitan Press (Met Press) was owned in the main by Max Wells and, like Craftsman Press, employed heat-set web offset equipment in addition to sheet-fed presses. The two companies were quite opposite in their marketing strategies, however: Craftsman preferred to not work with advertising agencies and graphic designers opting instead to sell directly to the ultimate customer. Met, on the other hand, was quite effective at working with the area’s ad agencies and designers. Max Wells son, Carl Wells, was one of the areas most successful and well-liked printing salesmen. Several other members of the Met staff were strong in their field as well: George Prue in production, Cord Harms Zum Spreckel, color technician and sales people, Glen Marian (sales manager), Bob Brady, John Neupert, Barry Reischling and John Nordahl.
Neupert was Max’s son-in-law and left Met in the early sixties to start his own company with partner, Don Witte. Neupert and Witte named their new firm Totem Press and the two enjoyed some success over the next several years. Neupert did the selling while Whitte handled production.
In1970 Max Wells decided it was time to sell the Metropolitan Press and he encouraged his son, Carl to put a group together to buy him out. Those in the group in addition to Carl Wells were Harm Zum Spreckel, Reischling and possibly another one or two. For a time it looked like the deal could be put together, but quite suddenly Dick Lea turned up with an offer to buy the company and merge it with Craftsman, much to the disappointment of Carl Wells and his group. The deal was hung up for a time as another Seattle printer, Farwest Acme, had brought suit against Max Wells and the Met Press claiming that Met conspired to deliberately put Farwest Acme out of business by offering prices in the market place that were below cost. Lea was ready to make the purchase, but insisted that the law suit be cleaned up before the deal could be sealed; they settled quickly and Metropolitan Press and Western Printing Company was absorbed into Craftsman in 1970. For a short while the name of the merged company became Craftsman Met Press returning to simply Craftsman Press in the late seventies or early eighties. George Prue moved up in the new organization quickly and following Ron Renny’s retirement was named president, a position from which he gave great leadership to Craftsman Press for many years. Torchy also made the move to Craftsman where he concluded his working career. Just prior to the sale of Met Press, and as mentioned above, Harms Zum Spreckel saw an opportunity to meet a need in the market and founded a new trade color separation firm, Color Control. Barry Reischling, who had specialized in financial and legal printing, left Craftsman a year or two following the purchase of Met Press by Lea and formed his own company he called ABCD (A Business Communications Division), a firm that has enjoyed considerable growth and success, both regionally and nationally and is now managed by Reischling’s son. Following the buy-out, Bob Brady became a long-term successful salesman for Craftsman and Nordahl moved to Graphicolor, a firm discussed later in this report..
For a while Carl Wells stayed with Craftsman Met in a sales position, but he was never as satisfied as when he worked in a business owned by his family. After a year or two Wells resigned and took his wife, Joan and children on an extended trip around the United States. Upon his return he tried sales work for both Color Control and later Cord’s competitor, Van Dyke Color (owned by Ralph Van Dyke), but ultimately hit on opening his own company, Windward Press, where for sometime he employed his wife and their two sons in the business. Wells wound up his career several years later owning a business that stamped names on golf balls. Tragically, he died of heart failure in about 2000, preceded in death by his wife. He was a highly respected and admired individual who gave much to the industry he loved.
Craftsman lost the TV Guide contract in the early nineties, but otherwise ran its business in about the same way until the passing of Dick Lea, Sr. in the late nineties. Following his father’s death, Dick Lea, Jr., together with president, George Prue and sales manager, Diane Hatch (Abbott had already retired), closed the Seattle plant and reestablished the business in Stead, Nevada where they built a 100,000 square foot facility and replaced much of Craftsman’s old equipment. It was suggested by many in the industry that the move to Nevada and a name change to Craftsman West were motivated by the opportunity to run a non-union plant as well as their enjoying a considerably more “business friendly” political environment. An example was the City of Stead gracing Lea and his partners with several attractive financial incentives including the absence of a business and occupation tax and considerably lower property taxes. Following George Prue’s death in 2007 Craftsman West was sold to Quad/Graphics, a large international printer based in Wisconsin.
Farwest Acme was the result of an early seventies merger of Acme Press and Farwest Lithograph. Acme Press was largely owned and run by Rod Olzendam. Olzendam had successfully positioned his company to be the sole source of printing for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair and for the several years following the fair both he and Acme Press were held in esteem by many of Seattle’s most prominent print buyers as Acme Press was considered by most of them to be the best quality shop in the city. Still, in the years following the fair most businesses in the region, including those in printing, slowed to a snails pace.
While I am not precisely clear on the ownership structure of Farwest at that time, a few people in their organization do deserve special mention - in particular, Bill Bonallo, who was both an outstanding salesman and a natural leader. Also prominent in the business were Ernie Lotz and his son Oakley and long-time, successful salesman, Les Shaw. I have been told that Ernie Lotz held most of the ownership interest in Farwest and Oakley worked for the firm mainly as an estimator. Shaw did much more than sell for the company; for example, he negotiated the firm’s labor contracts.
Following the merger, Farwest Acme and its operations consolidated in the Farwest building located at 3rd and Wall Street. Shortly after the merger management hired a young and very energetic salesman named Oliver Iversen. Iversen stayed with Farwest Acme as long as it was in business and was instrumental in its new business development efforts. Iversen went on to become a respected and successful sales rep in Seattle for Graphic Arts Center (GAC). At this writing Iversen is employed by Printing Today, a rapidly growing Portland printer owned in whole or in part by Frank Stammers, former CEO of GAC. Farwest Acme did a remarkable job of branding itself as not only the highest quality printer in the region, but through an aggressive marketing effort also attracted orders from discerning buyers in several other parts of the country. A special mention of Malcolm Clarke, the firm’s color technician is appropriate. Clarke was well known and greatly trusted and admired by Farwest Acme’s many key accounts. He was, for both the time and the place, an extraordinary color man. Clarke, like several other color technicians, concluded his career by performing press okay’s at Color Control.
Bonallo was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in the mid-seventies and following an unsuccessful effort to sell the company through an exchange of stock with Portland based GAC, Bonallo and Olzendam, together with the other shareholders looked elsewhere to sell the firm, but could attract no buyers. Ultimately, they wound up liquidating the company claiming that by selling off the equipment piece by piece the shareholders received more than they would have if the firm had been sold at its presumed market value. Bonallo, Olzendam and a few others retired while Oakley Lotz went to work for Unigard Insurance Company as manager of their print shop, a position he held until he too retired. A couple of years later Bonallo died leaving two sons who are still actively employed in the industry.
Graphic Arts Center was formed in or around 1965 from the resources of three Portland, Oregon shops, Agency Lithograph, Hallwyler Printing Company and Abbott, Kerns and Bell. The key players in the merger were Warren Deal, Bob Hallwyler, Bob Rickett and Jim McCully. The GAC story is a remarkable one, but is only related to printing in Seattle in a limited way. GAC grew rapidly and a couple of years after its formation the partners added a Harris M-200 heat-set web to their inventory of sheet-fed presses thus accelerating growth and redirecting their marketing efforts. About that same time the two owners of Deers Press, a Seattle printing firm, decided to sell their company. The two, Bud Bushell and Harry Strang, were proud of the company they had built as it was both a fine sheet-fed color printer and one of only two quality hot metal typesetting establishments in the city (the other being Pacifictype). The typesetting part of the business supported not only their own litho sales, but also served the advertising agencies, designers and the trade in general. With that unique capability in combination with a reputation for quality presswork, GAC was attracted to Deers as a prospective strong foothold in the Seattle market. The deal was made and Jim McCully, a GAC shareholder together with a top GAC salesman, Ron Blodgett, shifted their residency to Seattle to operate their new acquisition. A short time later GAC acquired Farwest Acme on the exchange of stock transaction mentioned above, but the two cultures did not mix resulting in the players “undoing” the deal and returning Farwest Acme to its original shareholders. The Deers purchase by GAC also fell short of GAC’s expectations for two principal reasons: first, hot metal typesetting was giving way to alternatives such as photo-type thus Deers’ typesetting billing was rapidly diminishing. Secondly, prior to purchase, the GAC executives had an over inflated picture of Deers position in the market and soon came to the conclusion that their best opportunity for success in Seattle was to employ sales reps working out of a simple sales office and concentrating on products suitable for web production. That being the case, the decision was made to close the Deers plant including the typesetting operation, which had been renamed Graphic Arts Center. McCully and Blodgett then headed back to Portland.
McCully went on to open a sales office for GAC in San Francisco while Blodgett began to rebuild his sales book in Portland. Over the years GAC built its total sales to over $150,000,000. When the owners finally sold to become more liquid the firm experienced a “spotty” series of owners. Sales fell and many of the talented people who built the company departed. Ultimately, Mail-Well Corporation (later renamed Cenveo) bought GAC and allowed the company to retain the Graphic Arts Center name in the Portland plant as well as in the regional sales offices.
Roy Rosenthal purchased The University Herald newspaper in the forties from the Reid family of Seattle. The former owner’s son, Wally Reid, stayed with the Herald’s new owners in a sales capacity. As the years passed, Rosenthal developed a small-job shop to meet the demand of many of their advertising customers. Some years later, Roy sold the Herald, but retained the job shop and named it University Printing Company. Roy Rosenthal’s son, Howard Rosenthal, joined the firm following his graduation from the University of Washington and the completion of his military obligation in about 1957. Later, Howard Rosenthal purchased the company from his father and together with Wally Reid worked to expand its sales in a very competitive market. During the nineties Howard was looking to retire and sold University Printing to Bob Knowles, owner of Forward Press, a company Knowles had founded in the late sixties. The Forward Press acquisition of University Printing Company was not the success that the two owners had hoped, but it did spring Rosenthal loose to found his own graphic arts consulting firm, an endeavor that appears to have enjoyed considerable success. Several years ago, Forward Press closed its doors.
Following the war, two friends - Beal McCullough and Jim Martine - either bought or established a small printing company in Seattle that they named Security Press. Through hard work and deprivation they kept the business afloat, but supporting two families on what the company was able to provide was simply too great a burden and, according to Jim Martine, the partners decided to flip a coin with the loser (winner?) to leave and Martine came up with tails. Martine was a very personable fellow, well liked where ever he traveled. McCullough was a very hard working individual and outwardly was the more serious of the two. Martine tells the story of the partners selling what for them was a huge order to Fisher Flouring Mills. They produced the job on time and to the customer’s satisfaction…then they waited to be paid. Day after day they checked the mail with anticipation looking for that check. The day the envelope arrived Martine open it, held the check up high and yelled, “hurray”. McCullough grunted and according to Martine said, “Getting that check sure tears hell out of our accounts receivable”. Martine’s good friend, Les Green was a brilliant inventor and innovator and started several companies, one with Martine’s help called G & M Nameplate (Green and Martine). Several years after Martine and McCullough parted company McCullough hired a very effective salesman named Bill Cathey. Later, McCullough sold the business to Cathey and it is now owned and operated by Cathey’s son, Chuck Cathey.
Another Les Green innovation was a firm named Washington Legal Blank. This enterprise created a broad line of legal forms (leases, wills, promissory notes, etc.) and marketed them through stationery stores, book stores, office supply firms and other establishments where customers might purchase. A part of the agreement to sell Bank Check Supply to North Pacific Bank Note Company (detailed later in this essay) was the latter’s obligation to provide office space for Washington Legal Blank for a year following the closing of the transaction. So it was, when I first joined the company in 1959 the general offices of Washington Legal Blank were housed at N.P. Bank Note Company.
Jim and Millicent Martine had two sons, Jim Jr. and his younger brother, Jeff. Following a stint in the Marines Jim Jr. went to work for Bank Check Supply and stayed several years. His brother Jeff worked for Airborne Freight for quite a while and then resigned to develop a boutique printing operation in his garage employing a platen letterpress producing small orders of personal letterhead and envelopes. It quickly became apparent that, while he enjoyed being his own boss and tinkering with the press, the business simply wouldn’t support him and his family. It was then Jeff asked himself, “What product do printers seek to avoid and print only when their good customers insist that they take the order?” The answer came at once – business cards. Immediately, Jeff Martine established a new company called Telepress and began a serious marketing effort. Over time the company grew, but eventually, Martine transferred his interest to a partner and left the business. (Jeff Martine’s older brother, Jim, will appear a little later in this essay.)
In the late sixties, Jim Knapp - the son of a Salem, Oregon printer - developed a business strategy of purchasing small West Coast family-owned printing companies. The idea was to look for companies that had some kind of a specialty niche that provided them with a larger margin than was typical in the industry. Once a company was acquired, Knapp introduced up to date practices and installed young capable managers to help these businesses flourish. In Seattle, Knapp negotiated the purchase of three such companies - National Lithograph, Kelly Printing and Masterprint – and the trio was consolidated into a single facility and the resulting business named Impression Northwest. After struggling with two unsuccessful managers, Knapp asked his in-house attorney, Ed Whitehead to operate the Seattle business in 1976. It was a very good decision for both men! Whitehead displayed exceptional managerial skills, assembled a top notch team, and the business grew steadily over the years. In the late eighties the name of the firm was changed to K/P Corporation reflecting the name of the parent company. As the years passed Whitehead wanted an ownership interest in what he was building and began to search the area for a small plant that he could purchase and develop. In 1987 he found what he was looking for in The Allied Printers and thus began another remarkable success story. Under Whitehead’s leadership The Allied Printers grew and prospered demonstrating that attractive profits really were a possibility in an industry known for its very thin margins. In 1997 Whitehead sold his company to the then Mail-Well Corporation (renamed Cenveo) and retired from the business after a year’s transition.
Another player in the story of Seattle’s printing industry was Grange Printing Company. In the 1920’s the Washington State Grange Board of Directors took a bold step and created a printing firm to produce their many publications and other graphic communications. Grange Printing Company was launched as a letterpress shop with an internal hot metal typesetting capability. The firm’s bindery requirements were met with the assistance of outside trade suppliers. Not long after establishing the business it became clear that the Grange’s print requirements were not nearly large enough to keep the typesetting and press departments busy so the company launched a marketing effort in the private sector.
As the years passed they managed to keep the business afloat, but little or no investment was made to insure its competitive position in the market. I believe it is fair to say that a great deal of Grange’s market share during the forties, fifties and continuing into the mid-eighties was based upon very low pricing. Customers unhappy with the results of their printed projects found a company willing to rerun the piece at no additional cost to the customer, but these concessions were costly to the business. Grange was one of the last companies in the region (perhaps even the country) to make the transition from letterpress to offset doing so in the late seventies. Since most of their steady work consisted of one and two-color publications Grange purchased a well used Harris-Cottrell heat-set web offset press labeled “V-700”. Getting the press to meet their expectations turned out to be both time-consuming and expensive. Even on its best day the press had very serious limitations, but could produce short-run, simple one and two-color publication work fairly well and at competitive costs. The problem was that the Grange sales people could not find enough of that work around to fill three shifts – an imperative to success in the web printing business.
At the time I began my graphic arts career Grange Printing was managed by Bob Benson and his assistant, Mel Carlson. When Dan Evans was elected Governor of Washington State in 1964 he picked Benson to be the State Printer, a position he held for many years. Carlson then succeeded Benson as the manager of Grange Printing. While I never used Grange as a print supplier during my years as a salesman, I did call upon their typesetting capability when I required the quality of hot-metal type, but was faced with severe budget constraints. Mel Carlson and the Grange crew were good folks, but suffered from both a lack of interest and investment in the business on the part of the Grange Board. In those early years I would have been astonished to have learned that The Grange Printing Company would play an important role during the final seventeen years of my career in the graphic arts. (My association with the Grange Printing Company will unfold later as I continue the story.)
Of course, the slice of Seattle printing history that I know best involves North Pacific Bank Note Company (N.P. Bank Note) where I began my career. The company was principally owned by two families, The Hull family of Tacoma and the Louis family of Mercer Island. The wives in both families were the daughters of the founder, Burt Buckmaster from Tacoma. A minority share was held by Frank Pritchard, Sr. and his two sons, Frank Pritchard, Jr. and Joel Pritchard. The company began in Tacoma in 1902 and a short time later Buckmaster purchased a bankrupt Seattle printing enterprise and gave it the same name as his Tacoma firm, North Pacific Bank Note Company.
Shortly after World War1 Frank Pritchard, Sr. went to work in the Seattle plant as a salesman The story goes that Buckmaster was a dynamic, but difficult man to work for and some time during the 1920’s, a “palace revolt” took place in the Seattle plant and several key people left to start their own firm, National Lithograph. Since Pritchard was one of the few who didn’t jump ship Buckmaster made him the manager, a position he held until turning it over to his son, Frank Jr. in the early to mid-fifties. Following Buckmaster’s death his two daughters and their husbands preferred to keep some distance between the families and were satisfied with the way Pritchard was running the Seattle operation. Tony Hull, Buckmaster’s son-in-law in Tacoma, became the manager of the Tacoma plant while Pritchard managed Seattle.
In1939, a struggling Seattle enterprise came up for sale called Griffin Envelope Company and Pritchard Sr. advised the families that they should buy it which they did for the lofty sum of $2,000. Some years later in the fifties when magnetic ink numbering imprints on bank checks became a standard Jim Martine (formally a co-owner of Security Press), convinced Pritchard Sr. to buy a small, but promising check printing company owned by Les Green called Bank Check Supply. The purchase of that company for $60,000 was an easy decision since both the Seattle and Tacoma printing plants had deep roots in financial products (e.g. stock and bond certificates as well as a wide range of other products of a financial nature).
It was during this same period that two other significant events took place: First, Frank Pritchard Sr. turned the management of the entire operation over to his son, Frank Jr. and installed his son, Joel, as manager of Griffin Envelope Company. Both the Hull and the Louis families supported these changes.
The second “event” was the sharp turn in marketing and production direction taken by both the Tacoma and Seattle printing operations. These two companies, whose history and business were built upon products related to the financial industry, found themselves, like many other lithographers across the land, suddenly moving toward selling and producing top quality advertising printing for demanding buyers. Doing so put real strain on the company’s manufacturing resources as the plants had neither the best equipment to serve that market nor the trained skilled work force capable of producing work to the level of excellence demanded. One thing N.P. Bank Note did not have to worry about was conversion to offset, an issue with other printers with roots in letterpress technology. As Pritchard Sr. turned the management responsibility over to his son he remained active in the business assuming the role of credit manager. His daily presence in the Seattle plant served the company and its employees well as he was a kind, gentle, wonderful person, possessed of uncommon wisdom. He was a mentor to me as well as many others in all three of our Seattle companies. His two sons possessed the same qualities, thus garnering the trust, respect and loyalty of all of their people.
In 1958 a talented production and manufacturing manager named Roy Johnson became dissatisfied with his employment situation at Pioneer Business Forms Company in Tacoma and began to look elsewhere. After interviewing Johnson, Pritchard Jr. made a very wise decision and hired him as his plant manager, a job that quickly morphed into Johnson really running the printing company as Pritchard concentrated his time and efforts on the growing check printing business. Initially, Johnson asked for more of a salary than Pritchard was prepared to pay so Johnson suggested that Pritchard hold the difference for one year and at the end of that period if Pritchard felt that Johnson hadn’t earned the difference the company would then keep it. However, if Pritchard felt at the end of the year that Johnson had earned the money Pritchard would pay it to him. After watching Johnson work for two months Pritchard raised him to the level he had originally requested.
At that same time the new check printing company, Bank Check Supply, was growing by leaps and bounds and Pritchard hired a young executive to run it, Doug Devin, son of former Seattle mayor, Bill Devin. So successful was the check company that a new company was formed in Vancouver B.C. to serve that market. The Canadian business, called Bank Check Supply Ltd. was owned both by Bank Check Supply and The Clippingdale family of Vancouver with the former holding the majority position. The Clippingdale’s were good people and long-time printers in Western Canada with a large ownership position in Evergreen Press and later, Agency Press, both of Vancouver B.C.
Kirk Hull, Tony Hull’s son in Tacoma, took over the management of the Tacoma operation upon his graduation from the University of Washington and the completion of his army obligation. While Pritchard Jr. technically oversaw the performance of the entire company in his role of CEO, he pretty much let the Hull’s run their own show as their family held a major ownership position in the company. At one point during Kirk Hull’s managing of the Tacoma plant he arranged for the company to purchase a small job shop in Olympia which was renamed, North Pacific Bank Note Company – Olympia. In Seattle, company owners Lyman Louis, Sr. and his wife, Margete Louis never participated in a management role but had two sons, Lyman Louis, Jr. and Jon Louis, both of whom were involved in the business in mid-management levels during the late sixties and throughout the seventies.
In 1970 a Toronto businessman named D. Miller Alloway paid a call on the Hull and Louis families. Alloway was the principal shareholder of a Canadian corporation named Consolidated Graphics Ltd. (later renamed Cairn Capital). At that time Canada allowed their banks to branch across the country while in the United States such expansion was not permitted. Alloway’s check printing company was flourishing throughout Canada and when he became aware of Bank Check Supply Ltd. his interest was piqued, leading him to the owners of the North Pacific Bank Note Company with an offer to buy their Canadian check printing operation. Much to Pritchard’s surprise the families were willing to sell, but on one condition: Alloway had to buy everything, not just the Canadian check printing company, but Bank Check Supply (U.S. operations), Griffin and the printing operations of N.P. Bank Note as well. Alloway agreed and financed the deal on a 100% leveraged basis using OPM (other people’s money).
All of a sudden we had a new ball game. Kirk Hull was resistant to the deal as he liked his situation as owner and operator of the Tacoma and Olympia plants and Alloway really didn’t care for that part of the business, so a deal was made wherein these two plants were held out of the transaction with an appropriate purchase price adjustment. Under this arrangement, Kirk Hull’s two plants would no longer be connected to the Seattle operations. However, there was one condition: Hull wanted to preserve the North Pacific Bank Note Company name which required Alloway’s holdings to be renamed. We did so carrying the torch forward under the name United Graphics.
Over those years the printing company was blessed with the presence of several very capable sales people. A partial list would include Russ Graves, Ken Wherry, Dick Piper (who later served as sales manager), Bert Pickering, Ned Krilich and Jerry Turman. More than anyone else, Graves and Wherry played early key roles in the company’s shift from producing products of a financial nature to high quality color printing for the advertising market.
As described above, Alloway had no more than mild interest in commercial printing and envelopes. These businesses simply came along with his real interest, Bank Check Supply and its sister company, Bank Check Supply Ltd. To Alloway’s credit he correctly saw that the real financial opportunities lay with check printing. In 1981 he negotiated the purchase of two other large check printing companies, Litton Financial - division of Litton Industries in Southern California and Checks Inc., based in Memphis. Both had multiple manufacturing plants throughout their respective regions. These new acquisitions bulked the company up revenue wise to the point that Alloway wrapped the entire check printing operation up into a new corporation, Interchecks, Inc.
Roy Johnson remained in his position as production manager of North Pacific Bank Note Company until shortly after the sale of the company and change of name to United Graphics in1970, when he was then named general manager of the printing division. At that same time I was named vice president adding to my sales management responsibility. In 1973 Johnson was promoted to executive vice president with responsibility to oversee the operations of all three companies, United Graphics, Printing Division, Griffin Envelope Company and Bank Check Supply and as a vice-president I was promoted to be general manager of United Graphics, Printing Division. Joel Pritchard had been elected to the United States House of Representatives and his brother, Frank, felt that Griffin Envelope Company needed closer oversight and turned to Johnson to provide it. Two years later in 1975 Johnson was elevated to general manager of Bank Check Supply where, for the next seven plus years, he performed in an outstanding fashion leading the company to record growth and profits. When Interchecks was formed in 1981 Frank Pritchard, Jr. moved from his United Graphics, Inc. CEO responsibilities to become Intercheck’s president and CEO and I was asked to become president of United Graphics, Inc. which gave me responsibility for both the company’s printing and envelope businesses.
In the fall of 1983 Johnson and I resigned from our respective positions. Johnson, ten years my senior, actively sought consulting assignments while I returned to sales with a large and highly respected California firm, Anderson Lithograph, representing them in the Pacific Northwest market. In 1985 Johnson was retained by the Grange Board of Directors to conduct an audit of Grange Printing and to advise them on why the firm was losing money. It took very little time for Johnson to recognize the problem: management and equipment deficiencies – big time! Johnson presented his findings to the Board and indicated to them that he would help them to "right the ship” and get it back on course. He also suggested that they consider selling the company. If interested in the latter, Johnson indicated that he thought he could put a group together to do a purchase deal. The Grange Board jumped at that prospect and Johnson went about rounding up the team. Two executives from Interchecks, Bob Valentine, vice president - sales and Joe Calabro, president (Pritchard had retired by then) had previously indicated to Johnson that they both would be open to owning their own business should he come across a potential acquisition candidate. Johnson contacted both and each expressed immediate interest. Johnson was willing to be an investor and help his two former associates and friends get started, but asked for a guarantee that they would buy his shares at the end of five years. He also felt that a fourth partner was needed, one who had banking contacts. To fill this slot Johnson invited Bob Frayn, owner and operator of Frayn Printing Company to come aboard and he accepted. In mid-year 1985 the four of them bought Grange Printing Company and changed the name to Valco Graphics, Inc.
The next two years were painful as major adjustments were made in staffing, abandonment of unprofitable accounts and accounts receivable collections. Midway through the second year the company began to take shape and develop a small profit. Six months later Calabro announced he was leaving having accepted a job from one of the company’s customers. With Calabro gone the ownership structure had to change and that is when Bob Valentine contacted me and the two of us bought out the other three partners. Our partnership lasted seventeen years and we sold our company to Mail-Well Corporation (renamed Cenveo) in June of 2004. Interestingly, by then, Mail-Well had already purchased Anderson Lithograph, Graphic Arts Center and The Allied Printers. (They also purchased Cadmus Communications Corporation of Richmond, Virginia, on whose board I served for over ten years.)
A year or two before the sale of Valco Graphics to Mail-Well Corporation (Cenveo) Valentine and I promoted a young and talented manager, named Darren Loken to the presidency and COO position of our company. Mail-Well kept Loken in his leadership position in its newest franchise, but he yearned to own a business of his own so it was not surprising that after a year or so with the company under new ownership, Loken resigned and with the help of a couple of investors, purchased Telepress, the company originally formed by Jeff Martine.
Following my departure from United Graphics in 1983 a group of managers purchased the printing division from Alloway and chased hard after the software manual business. For a while their fortunes soared and they attracted the interest of Banta Corporation, a well-known national printer. After a short negotiation, Banta bought United Graphics and within three years they closed it. To those of us who gave so much of our energy and commitment to this company over such a very long time, its demise was a sad occasion.
Dammeier Printing Company in Tacoma was a direct competitor to the N.P. Bank Note Company in the same city. From its inception the company was owned and operated by the senior Dammeier, but as soon as his son, Brian, finished his military obligation in 1958 he joined his father in the business and shortly thereafter bought him out. Dammeier was three years younger than Kirk Hull, but the two knew each other well and despite being direct competitors, were good friends. Within two or three years of operating on his own, Hull had had enough and negotiated the sale of his company to Brian. Dammeier then renamed the combined company Print NW and for a short time operated the combined company out of the former N.P. Bank Note Company building in Tacoma. Dammeier itched to make a big move with the business, but first needed to find a better plant facility, one capable of accommodating the growth he envisioned. Dammeier found what he sought in Fife, just north of Tacoma and after purchasing vacant land proceeded to build a modern facility to meet this objective. Upon completion the company moved to the new building and purchased a nearly new eight-page heat set web (Harris M-110). These were huge financial steps all taken fairly close together so it was not surprising that the company struggled for a while, but in time not only recovered, but flourished. No small share of the recovery credit was due to Dammeier’s son, Kurt. As a new sales rep for Print NW, Kurt Dammeier began cold calling all over the area and one day made a call on a small software company in Bellevue named Microsoft and the rest was history. Almost over night sales at Print NW soared as they quickly became a major supplier of manuals to Microsoft. This sales and production experience then lead the firm to service the many other software start-ups blossoming in the area. Kurt Dammeier recognized that the real opportunities in this business went far beyond printing manuals. His customer also needed the disc containing the software and, together with the manual, inserted into a brightly decorated container (which they also printed). Once the packaging was complete there was still distribution and fulfillment to offer the client. Microsoft was a perfect customer for this line of thinking as it saw itself as a creator of software, not a manufacture. For a time, Print NW provided all of these services and products to not only Microsoft, but to many of the numerous software firms that populated the Puget Sound area.
One day the senior Dammeier was contacted by a large Canadian printer named Quebecor World to inquire if the family would have an interest in selling. He assured them that they were not interested, but not long after that initial contact, Quebecor made a second overture and this time Kurt Dammeier appealed to his father to consider what they had to offer. The result was a transaction wherein the Dammeier family sold 51% of Print N W (by then renamed Six Sigma), retaining a 49% position for themselves. Within a year Quebecor purchased the remaining 49% and took total ownership of the business. The next few years were not kind to the company and ultimately it was closed. Along the way the Dammeier’s sold the building in Fife. Brian Dammeier retired and his son, Kurt became a successful investor in regional start-up companies as well as becoming the founder of Beechers, a very popular maker and purveyor of quality cheeses. Kurt Dammeier’s brother, Bruce Dammeier, founded a new printing company with a partner in about 2000 and named it Print NW and that company is thriving today.
Barney McCallum was a top-notch salesman for Griffin Envelope Company when I joined N.P. Bank Note in 1959. However, a year or two later McCallum decided to venture out on his own as an envelope broker in his own firm named McCallum Envelope Company. McCallum was a close friend of both Frank Pritchard, Jr. and his brother, Joel - in fact McCallum and Joel Pritchard had second homes very near each other on Bainbridge Island and both were among the small group that invented “Pickleball”. His leaving saddened his Griffin associates as he was highly regarded. Some of McCallum’s customers followed him although he devoted most of his energy to establishing new accounts, ones better suited to his new situation. Within a year or two his income was back to where it had been at Griffin at the time of his departure. Indeed, his business was so successful that he decided it was time to purchase his own envelope gluing and folding machine Once McCallum could produce his own envelopes he created a second enterprise, Seattle Envelope Company. The market for this firm was the area printers. McCallum’s strategy was that the printer could lithograph a flat sheet with one, two or more envelopes on it depending upon the sheet size. The printed sheets would then go to Seattle Envelope to be converted into a finished product. Seattle Envelope continues to do a robust business with printers all over the region. Early in his career McCallum realized that if you are a small, local envelope company you will find it very difficult to compete with large national firms if you attempt to land large orders from high visibility customers. This revelation led McCallum to seek niche type work where experience and competency could be developed and margins could be increased. Two examples of his employing this strategy follow: When the banks first introduced the plastic credit cards in the sixties each application form had go through four distinct manufacturing operations: lithographing on two sides, perforating, the application of remoistening glue and folding. Using conventional technology these forms were very expensive to produce and margins were very slim. McCallum recognized that if he could modify a machine or even develop a new machine that could perform all four functions in a single pass he might own the market or at least a substantial share of it. It took him and Dick Dryden, his key mechanic, several years to perfect a viable prototype, but once they had the machine on line the business flowed in and does still today. The second example of McCallum’s “niche strategy” was producing small envelopes for theater and sporting event tickets. This is a specialty product requiring special machines dedicated to a single product line. Once McCallum purchased the proper equipment and his people trained to operate it, he landed numerous accounts and that business flourished and continues to today.
As the years went by McCallum changed the name of the firm from McCallum Envelope Company to McCallum Envelope and Printing Company reflecting his growing commercial print business. Several years ago he sold the firm to his son, David, but retained the miniature envelope business which he had structured as a separate company known as Ticket Envelope. Barney McCallum’s wife, Carol, looked after that enterprise for a number of years, but in 2006, Carol and Barney McCallum’s daughter, Betsy Kenney and friend, Neysa Mittelstaedt took over for Carol McCallum. The business serves a national market and continues to grow.
After owning the main company for four or five years, David McCallum sold it to two associates in the business, Terry Storms and Brad Clarke both of whom continue to run it very successfully. The senior McCallum’s deeply imbedded “innovation culture” continues to move the company forward as the McCallum Print Group (as it is now named) is one of the region’s leaders in digital printing.
The Cone brothers are also Seattle printing legends. Just following World War II an enterprising young man named Jerry Cone opened a small letter shop in Seattle and appropriately named it The Cone Company. A year or two later he was joined by his brother, Mort Cone. The Cone brothers worked hard with Mort running the business and production side and Jerry doing the selling. Their roots were in mailing and print production of small one and two-color flyers and other simple marketing literature. As the company grew customer’s were pressing the Cone’s for more sophisticated presswork and they responded by adding the appropriate equipment. In the seventies Jerry’s son, Gary Cone joined the firm and focused his learning experience on estimating and production.
During the seventies the brothers purchased Heiden’s Mailing Bureau and changed the name of the expanded enterprise to Cone Heiden. In 1977 the Cone brothers began looking for a buyer for their company and found one in the person of Gene Arfin, a businessman from Everett with no printing experience. Regrettably, after a few years under Arfin’s ownership the firm failed. Shortly after Arfin’s purchase of the firm Gary Cone joined a friend, Bill Webber in an enterprise they call Lithocraft. Several years ago Cone sold his interest in the company to Webber, but remained with the firm. Gary has written books on print sales and profitability and is in demand as a consultant and as a speaker at industry meetings all over the country.
Another printing firm worthy of mention is Heath Printers. Both Clem and Howard Heath worked for North Pacific Bank Note Company in Seattle as pressmen. While they were both still young they broke away to start their own company in the Prefontaine Building located near Pioneer Square in Seattle. Clem Heath did the selling while his brother, Howard produced the work and through their combined efforts the firm grew. After a few years the brothers purchased a building on Boylston Street in the Broadway district and the growth continued. The Heath’s were encouraged by the check buyer from Seafirst Bank (now BankAmerica) to begin a check printing company similar to Bank Check Supply. (Apparently the buyer felt that Bank Check Supply was enjoying close to a monopoly since it was the only local supplier of checks and Seafirst preferred local suppliers.) The Heath’s took the suggestion and ran with it quite successfully. Howard Heath was truly a wonder in the area of mechanics. He designed ingenious manufacturing systems including a litho press that would do sequential numbering, a technological achievement not thought possible at the time. The brothers then formed a press manufacturing company and sold the press to check printers all over the country (including Interchecks.) The pair innovated in many other ways and with the help of Jim Martine, Jr., they created proprietary product lines that further enhanced their business. Early this decade the brothers sold their printing business to a national consolidator who combined it with another Seattle printing firm they had earlier purchased. The surviving firm is Emerald City Graphics. Both Heath brothers died shortly after the sale of their company
David Blethamy had always had a fascination with printing and the processes involved in doing quality art print reproduction. In the mid-seventies, this interest moved Blethlamy to establish a small, but capable print shop he named Atomic Press located at the north end of Lake Union. The business grew to the point he needed to relocate to larger quarters and he did so by purchasing a building just off Rainier Avenue at Dearborn Street. Coincidental with the move was the purchase of a new, 40”six-color litho sheet-fed press. It was not long before Blethlamy needed additional capital to operate the business and he found the answer in Ewel Grossberg, former principal shareholder of George Rice and Sons, a large Los Angeles printer with a strong market position in the North West. Grossberg arranged for the purchase of Atomic Press and installed his son, Alan Grossberg in the CEO position. To add sales muscle to the firm, Ewel gave Bruce Tyler, a former George Rice salesman in Seattle, a 20% share. The name of the firm was then changed to Grossberg Tyler and at once it became a major player in the regional advertising printing market. The two partners felt strongly that they needed a web press to augment their inventory of sheet-fed presses and with the senior Grossberg’s backing ordered a Heidelberg eight-page, six-color web. Their sales grew, but when Chris Madison, owner of ColorGraphics, a very successful West Coast printer based in Los Angeles, came to inquire if they would be interested in selling, they responded positively (or maybe it was Ewel Grossberg who did). As mentioned above, sometime later, ColorGraphics was purchased by Cenveo which had previously purchased The Allied Printers and Valco Graphics under the corporation’s former name Mail-Well. The combined trio now occupies the Atomic Press building and is currently the dominant color printer in the Seattle market.
No discourse on key players in the Seattle regional printing industry during the last half of the twentieth century would be complete without a few words describing Bruce Tyler and the remarkable impact he had upon the region’s top buyers of printed material. Tyler came on the scene fairly late – about 1980, but in many ways unalterably changed the landscape. While a very successful sales rep for George Rice & Sons in the Orange County area of Southern California, Tyler was diagnosed with a serious case of diabetes. His mentor, Ewel Grossberg, Rice’s president, kept Tyler on the payroll and suggested that he take six months off to rest. He did exactly that and moved to his father’s condominium in Ketchum, Idaho. As his health improved he began to make some sales calls in the area visiting businesses in Spokane, Boise, Portland and Seattle. He struck pay dirt in Seattle and a short time later, together with his wife and child, actually moved to Seattle and began a very aggressive account development campaign. Bruce Tyler was a remarkably effective salesman and almost overnight opened some of the area’s largest and most prestigious accounts. Local buyers quickly warmed to the idea of flying to Los Angeles for press okay’s and entertainment and Tyler saw to it that they were entertained. Moreover, buyers were impressed with the quality of the work produced by Rice. When George Rice and Sons was sold to World Color and Ewel Grossberg was no longer at the helm, Tyler found representing Rice less enjoyable. It was at that time that Ewel Grossberg set him up with his son, Alan, on what became Grossberg Tyler. Bruce Tyler passed away in May of 2008, but is remembered fondly by the many customers and friends with whom he did business.
Owned by John Bacon, Graphicolor was a significant factor in the Seattle print market for a relatively short time in the late eighties and early nineties. Bacon had been a partner with Bob Kollmar in a small printing company named Gateway/NW located in the same building on Westlake Avenue North as Van Dyke Color. The two partners had a buy-sell agreement funded by a substantial insurance program. Suddenly and unexpectedly, Kollmar died and Bacon found himself the benefactor of the insurance policies and in a strong financial position. Following Kollmar’s death Gateway/NW was renamed Graphicolor and the business moved to a new home on Western Avenue. After a decade or so of operating the business, Bacon sold the firm to Trojan Lithograph in Tukwila.
Trojan Lithograph began shortly after the war with its sister company, Milmanco, both owned by Marv Hurtgen and Tom Cooke. While Milmanco specialized in manual printing, Trojan was active in the commercial print market. For years neither firm was very visible on the regional graphic arts scene and then a very significant event occurred: One of their salespeople called on Microsoft. The Microsoft buyer was frustrated because their packaging supplier was not performing and asked the Trojan rep if they did package printing. The enterprising rep assured the buyer of Trojan’s interest and capability and raced back to the plant to gauge the receptivity of management. Trojan took the job and was so successful in producing it that they began a total retooling and conversion of their product line to packaging. During the mid to late nineties Hurtgen sold the firm to a Canadian company and, as indicated above, Trojan Lithograph continues successful operations today.
A heart warming story surrounds the sale of Trojan to the Canadian firm. The deal closed several weeks before the holidays and on the last working day before Christmas Hurtgen slipped into the building through an open side door and proceeded to give each employee a check for $1000 for each year they had served Trojan Lithograph. Some of his former employees had been with the firm over ten years. There were many smiling faces to be found at Trojan Lithograph that day.
A late, but successful player in the Seattle printing scene is Les Smith, owner of Kaye –Smith. For years Les Smith was a business partner with Hollywood celebrity and movie star, Danny Kaye. Using Kaye’s money, Smith invested heavily in radio stations all over the United States. Along the way Kaye became ill and both men agreed it was time to find liquidity by selling off most of their properties. The situation found Smith in the mid 90’s with a great deal of cash looking for a business he could buy and develop. One day Smith’s good friend, Mike Berry, retired president of Seafirst Bank, called him to inform him of a business for sale named Lothrop Business Forms. The owner, Jack Lothrop, had started the business several years earlier, but had little luck building it while competing with the forms giants like Moore Business Forms. Smith saw the company not as a forms printer, but rather a marketer of products and services to the financial industry. With no haggling over price Smith bought the firm and proceeded to put together a business plan that has taken the Kaye – Smith enterprise from less than $1,000,000 in sales when he bought it to nearly $50,000,000 in sales today. We can hardly call Les Smith or his firm, Kaye-Smith a commercial printer (a label he eschews), but Smith’s name and achievements rightly belong in any list of successful graphic arts entrepreneurs in this region.
So there you have it, the history of printing businesses and some comments regarding several of the key people in the Seattle regional area during the second half of the twentieth century. It is an interesting story, tales rich in both successes and failures. The individuals who owned the businesses were classic entrepreneurs – competitive and colorful people, but also business owners and managers in love with the paper, ink and the craft, sharing that love with their people who in turn were deeply committed to the industry to which they devoted their working lives. I am proud to be numbered among them and pleased to have this opportunity share this story of both their fortunes and of their misfortunes, of their successes and their failures.
I would like to especially acknowledge the thoughtful counsel that I received during the writing of this historical recounting from several friends that lived these years in the industry as I did. Of special assistance to me in confirming (and correcting) the accuracy of my memory of people and events were Sam Boren, salesman par excellence for West Coast Paper, Frank Pritchard, Jr. Roy Johnson, Jeniene Plows, Ron Blodgett, Jerry Cone and Barney McCallum. I thank as well Michelle Whitehead, daughter of Ed Whitehead, for invaluable editing assistance. Thank you all. Bruce A. Walker