I have worked on and off in the Chelsea area for years, first at a typesetter called ANY Phototype (1988-1991), then at Macy’s as a copywriter (2000-2004) and here I am again working for a few weeks in the spring of 2015 at Fitch Group, a printing firm that has been in business for about 130 years.
I had noticed the Caxton Building, 229 West 28th between 7th and 8th Avenues, before while staggering around the region at lunchtimes, but now I’m more certain than ever that the building was so named for a reason. No doubt, the building was constructed with the printing trade in mind — the Renaissance-era William Caxton (1415-1492) introduced the printing press to England, following Johannes Gutenberg’s success with it in Germany. Originally a merchant, he made numerous visits to Belgium and Germany, where he saw the new printing presses firsthand. His first printing press was set up in Westminster in 1476, and his first production was Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (some accounts differ about that).
One of the “faded ads” still visible on the Caxton Building is “L. Kehlmann Co., printing, embossing.” According to the Indispensable Walter Grutchfield, Leopold Kehlmann, a Russian immigrant, founded a printing business in the Lower East Side in 1890 and moved to West 28th Street in 1917, which is probably when the ad was painted. The Kehlmann family maintained the business until the mid-1960s.