Company keeps past alive with printing press

Published 12:12 am Tuesday, January 29, 2008

NATCHEZ — A walk down the basement steps of Kimbrell Office Supply is in many ways a walk back in time.

You might not recognize it at first, but among state-of-the-art equipment and computers are tiny pieces of Natchez History.

Thin pieces of etched metal with logos, addresses, phone numbers and mottos of long-lost Natchez businesses fill drawer after drawer in the Natchez Printing Company space.

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The etched designs for George’s, International Paper, City Bank and hundreds of other business were once used for printing business cards, stationary and other offices supplies.

Natchez Printing Company’s David Alford at one time probably used many of these tiny pieces to feed the three dinosaurs that inhabit the downstairs space.

The three early 20th century presses that sit quietly in the basement were at one time constantly humming with activity printing a wide assortment of paper products for downtown residents.

Almost a hundred years after the cast iron behemoths were built, Alford still uses them for special orders and projects.

“This one was probably built in the 20s,” Alford said pointing to the oldest press in the building. “But that is just a wild guess.”

Monday morning Alford was working on such an order for the Adams County court records.

For decades, the 1920s Chandler and Price letterpress has been stamping the file folders for the county courts.

Because the county uses so few of the folders and because an etched plate had already been made, it has been cost prohibitive for the county to do anything else.

Printing fewer than 250 folders at a time, the county chooses to have then printed the old fashioned way rather than having to order an entire truckload from an out-of-town printer.

So whenever the county needs them Alford gets out the printers ink and the etched plate and sets up the large press for the job.

Alford is probably one of about five people who know how to use the old press.

“There aren’t but a few of left who have ever used one,” Alford said. “But some industrious fellow could probably figure it out.”

Alford started his printing career in 1959 working for the Jackson State Times. Since then he worked for various company and for a two year stint as the owner of Printers Ink in Ferriday in the 1980s.

Then Kimbrell bought the old Natchez Printing Company in 1986 and convinced Alford to come work for them.

Alford has been working for Kimbrell since then.

Most printing is done these days with computers and other advanced printing techniques.

Ironically as computers become obsolete, Alford said the old 1920s press will still keep on running. With a few belt tightening and adjustments, Alford said the press requires little maintenance. “This thing will be here long after all of us are dead,” he said.