Inside a Gritty Brooklyn Factory,
A million inaugural invitations and one grateful printing firm.
By CAROLINE H. DWORIN
Published: December 19, 2008
ON Thursday, Dec. 11, Jim Donnelly got the call at his office on Jay Street in Dumbo for the biggest job he had ever had. Emmett Beliveau, the executive director of the Presidential Inaugural Committee, told him that Precise Continental, Mr. Donnelly’s 26-year-old printing company, had won the bid to produce one million gold-and-black engraved invitations for the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama.
Mr. Donnelly put out dozens of calls for rush orders of paper, ink and the like.
Mr. Donnelly gathered his staff for the announcement, and a cheer went up. “They were ecstatic,” he said. “They wanted to be a part of history.”
To meet the Jan. 2 deadline, Mr. Donnelly’s 65 employees have to work around the clock. But no one was complaining, Mr. Donnelly said, and he put out dozens of calls for rush orders of paper, ink and the like.
According to Mr. Donnelly, Precise Continental was selected over rival printers because it is a union company, it uses recycled paper and it is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, which promotes responsible forest management. Although Clark Stevens, a spokesman for the inaugural committee, would not confirm that those factors were decisive, he did say, “These are issues that President-elect Obama campaigned on and that have concerned him throughout his career.”
Several days after the phone call, the snow fell heavily on the cobblestones in Dumbo, and trains rattled over the Manhattan Bridge. Inside Precise Continental, there was an almost poetic combination of mechanical repetition and human industry, all on an enormous ink-stained wooden floor. It could have been the 1800s.
The first order arrived by truck on Monday, from Neenah Paper, a Wisconsin company. Ink came on Tuesday from BuzzInk, in Chicago.
With clean hands, the workers inspected each invitation at each step in the process, and fed great machines moving back and forth. “This gentleman here can feed by hand as good as the automatic press can,” said Mr. Donnelly of a man he called Bobby, who was seated in front of a massive instrument moving sheets of paper from his left hand to his right.
Precise Continental prints stationery and specialty items, like certificates for Fordham’s million-dollar donors and invitations to an Emmy after-party sponsored by TV Guide. As for the inaugural invitations, they are being printed on recycled paper called Classic Crest (“It’s a distinguished cream color,” said Bernie Hennessy, area sales director at Neenah Paper), with an inaugural seal at the top in gold. The curling black script, modified versions of Shelley Allegro and Kuenstler typefaces, begins, “The Presidential Inaugural Committee requests the honor of your presence. …”
Mr. Donnelly’s plant will hum 20 hours a day, with the workers in two shifts, to complete the project. “Our goal is to get as much done before Christmas Eve,” Mr. Donnelly said, “so they don’t have to work the day after Christmas.” He would not say how much the invitation project will cost.
A small, dark-haired, steady-handed man named Augusto Lovato, who speaks more Spanish than English, hunched over a drawing board in a quieter room off the main floor, a dusty lamp nearby. Peering though an old magnifying glass at a copper plate, he expertly cleaned the serifs and curls.
“This is a real economy,” Mr. Donnelly said of the printing business. “This is not that bogus economy of Wall Street. This country used to manufacture things.”
Mr. Donnelly does not believe he will be asked to attend the inauguration. Of course, he has not finished printing the invitations.