Put simply, letterpress printing is a form of relief printing, where the text or image is on a raised surface, similar to a rubber stamp. Ink is applied to the raised surface and then paper is pressed directly against it to transfer the text/image. Despite popular belief, printing from moveable type was actually invented in China in 1041, and then again four centuries later in Europe. Although the exact details of the invention of letterpress printing remain hazy, most scholars credit Johannes Gutenberg in Mainz Germany around 1440. His invention of an adjustable type mold allowed many pieces of type to be cast at once and therefore allowed books to be printed at an unprecedented rate. Letterpress printing remained the primary method of printing until the 19th century, although these later industrialized presses were radically different machines from Gutenberg's time.
Today, letterpress printing is loved by many for leaving a tactile and visual impression into the paper – some call it “debossed.” Although this practice is unique to contemporary letterpress printing, it communicates an elegance and handcrafted quality that can’t be matched by any other printing method. All Hoban Card orders are individually hand printed on a 1902 or 1911 Chandler and Price platen letterpress. Each order utilizes its own letterpress photopolymer plate created from a digital file.
If you'd like to learn more about the history of letterpress printing check out some of these fantastic resources. We really like this animated model of a Gutenberg-era letterpress as well as this interactive Atlas of Early Printing, both from the University of Iowa Libraries. For the chronologically-minded, here is a thorough History of Printing Timeline from the American Printing History Association.