Housed in the Pearl Street district of Portland, Oregon is an urban paper mill, letterpress print shop, bindery, custom invitation gallery and design studio, and a fine European paper boutique. One might think we are speaking of six different businesses, but in fact, it is all under one roof known as Oblation Papers & Press. Here, they also design and produce their own line of wholesale goods that are warehoused and shipped from this very same location.
Founded in 1989 by Ron and Jennifer Rich, this year they are celebrating a milestone of 25 years of making paper by hand. Jennifer tells the story, “We started making handmade paper on our month-long honeymoon at the Oregon coast in the fall of 1989, throwing sea pods and grasses in a blender, first selling it at a local craft market, then craft fairs around the west coast, then acquiring wholesale accounts.”
They constructed hand bound albums and guest books, and sold their goods in markets and galleries across the west coast.
Ron built various sundry papermaking tools, as well their first Hollander beater (Kitchen blenders only cut fibers, leaving you with a small amount pulp and weaker paper. Hollander Beaters are machines that macerate, cut, and fibrillate fibers into buckets of ready pulp.)
In between graduate studies, they started wholesaling their papers to businesses that printed wedding invitations and decided they could buy a press and start doing invitations on their own. “About 20 years ago we bought a letterpress and learned how to use it from a 1940s industrial manual. Ron even hand-milled wooden spacers to fit between the individual lead-type letters we set by hand.” With the addition of a 100 year old letterpress machine, Jennifer handset type and began printing custom wedding invitations in their Vashon Island studio.
“We now have 6 papermaking vats and 6 presses, which have come to us through many means,” states Jennifer. “We design our own line of letterpress/handmade paper goods and invitations. We sell to about 750 stores in the US and abroad.”
In 1998, they opened a retail venue in Portland’s blossoming Pearl District. Formerly an industrial area, the Pearl District has grown into a lively mix of art galleries, restaurants, and shops. With their well curated shop in the front and their antique presses manually churning in the back (separated by only a glass wall), Jennifer compares Oblation to “a Paris flea market, because you never know what you’re going to find,” she explains. The shop carries a wide selection of letterpress and locally designed greeting cards, fine old world papers, pens, artful cards and pencil cases, wrapping paper, sealing wax, journals, paper weights, and ephemera. And lately, Oblation has even begun carrying vintage typewriters and fountain pens. “We love seeing what people connect with.”
“Rossi was one of our first, and most constant lines of paper goods, perfect to forward our goal of bringing the most beautiful papers of the world under one roof. Our customers love Rossi papers, for the deep historical integrity, traditional Italian design, and beautifully expansive sheets of wrapping paper,” says Jennifer.
“We have also custom ordered multiple batches of Rossi’s grey leather journals … a simple, functional book … impossible to find anything like it in the USA.”
“Rossi pencils always serve as a thoughtful gift. In this world of increasing electronic dependence, writing with a decorative pencil on fine Italian paper provides a small voyage into the past.”
Jennifer and Ron have always been attracted to the benefits and practicality of recycling. Their fiber source is now 100% cotton, acid-free, and recycled remnants from the garment industry. “Our concerns for conservation affect everything we do, including our design process. We use soy inks, citrus solvents, and antique presses that will likely outlive us all! This business was founded on practicing a green approach.” They love that their customers support their enthusiasm for conservation and recycling.
When asked about her favorite part of the business, Jennifer says, “our favorite part of running Oblation Papers & Press is the quest … how can we (continue to) surprise people with paper goods?”
“Right now we are putting together an old-fashioned soda fountain toppings bar, for gift-wrap toppings.
We offer natural elements like twigs and dried flowers, vintage goodies like antique buttons and fishing weights, and a wide assortment of beautiful ribbons and wrap for our custom gift-wrap service.” We say that’s a pretty great surprise!
For those who actually are fortunate enough to visit the store, make sure you say hello to the Oblation greeter, Pica (pronounced pie-ka….a pica is a petite typesetting unit of measurement commonly used for measuring lines of type.) She is the chirping heart of the retail shop.
An online review from a local customer says it all, “I love this store! I love the smell of paper, the feel of good paper, the friendliness of the people who work here, watching the press run in the back room, hearing the other customers ooh and ah over the merchandise….I just find the whole experience wonderful.”