The South Street Seaport is one of New York City's oldest neighborhoods, and has been a busy trading hub for hundreds of years. You never know what historic treasures you might find here. Bowne & Co. Stationers is a gem of a shop that sells beautiful cards, stationery, posters, and other gifts. It's located in a charming historic building on Water Street, and is filled with lots of lovely treasures including a working antique printing studio in the back. Right next door is it's more contemporary sister shop, Bowne Printers, where you can find really cool small-batch printed greeting cards, note cards, calendars, etc. They use a collection of 12 working, antique printing presses from the South Street Seaport Museum, and offer workshops where you can learn more about these cool machines and make your own hand printed cards and posters. I love places that celebrate the beauty of hand craftsmanship, and these sister shops are a great place to go to find one-of-a-kind gifts and cards for your friends and family this holiday season. Both shops are open 7 days a week, from 11-7. Keep reading to learn more about the history of Bowne & Co., and get a full tour of both shops:
Bowne & Co. began in 1775 as a dry goods store, and eventually made it's way into the printing business. One of New York's oldest businesses, they have printed for the for maritime and finance industries for centuries. In 1975, they donated a collection of historic printing presses to the South Street Seaport Museum, and opened Bowne & Co. Stationers.
The shop has a historic charm and features exposed brick walls and wood ceiling joists. It is decorated in a style true to the time period with antique-inspired light fixtures, and a curated collection of cards and gift items reminiscent of the 19th century.
Master Printer, Robert Warner, has worked in the shop since 1995 keeping the heavy antique printing presses in working order. In total they have a collection of 12 presses dating from 1813-1958. It's really amazing to look at these huge pieces of equipment and realize how much time and effort went into printing in the olden days. The heavy iron presses are beautifully crafted, and works of art in themselves.
Right next door you will find Bowne Printers, the more contemporary extension of the space that opened in 2012. They use a combination of modern technology and antique printing presses to create small batch printed goods. They have a shop featuring a cute selection of cards, gift tags, and other goodies. They also do all kinds of custom orders like wedding invitations, restaurant menus, album covers, posters and more. They have several workshops a month where you can learn about different printing techniques and go home with your hand printed gifts!
Resident Printer, Robert Wilson, told me they try to have one machine running a day for demonstration purposes. It was really cool to see these clever machines in action, and the old technology is quite fascinating.
In addition to the antique printing presses, they have a collection of letters and design blocks that are used to create the printed designs. These shops are definitely worth a visit to get a glimpse into the history of graphic design and printing. Many of the words and terminology used in modern-day printing originated from these antique devices. Be sure to check out Bowne & Co. Stationers and Bowne Printers when you are in the South Street Seaport.