Arley-Rose Torsone and Morgan Calderini have been busy birthing big projects this year.
The first, which opened in June, is their relocated-from-Rhode Island business Ladyfingers Letterpress, featuring four 2,000-plus-pound antique presses.
The second arrived just a month later: Casper Julien Torsone Calderini, weighing in, for comparison, at a mere 8 pounds, 4 ounces.
While they are new to the latter, they aren’t that new to the former. Five years ago, the couple’s wedding invitation—a hand-lettered piece the two artists designed and printed—went viral via Flickr. “People hadn’t really seen invitations like that before,” Torsone says. “Letterpress wedding invitations were really conservative … and here we were with this neon poster.”
The notoriety led to the opening of then-Providence-based Ladyfingers Letterpress, and custom invitations and a fast-growing company kept them busy for the next few years. It ultimately burned them out, Torsone says, so they chose to cut back on weddings and launch what former clients kept asking for: a greeting card line. Those cards opened the door to the 2013 National Stationary Show in New York City, which Torsone says not only introduced them to national and international buyers, but earned them attention that has garnered awards up against the likes of Hallmark and American Greetings—including the 2015 “Card of the Year” Louie Award.
“The cooler thing is that we won for a card that says, ‘Congrats on your bun in the freezer,’ ”Torsone says. “It’s a little test tube that says, ‘Hi Moms!’ ”
“It’s one of our favorite cards,” Calderini says. “One that we certainly made from personal experience.” (Note: The card also comes in “Hi Dads!” and “Hi Mom and Dad!” versions.)
Things were going well for them back East. But in 2013, as they learned that Calderini’s parents’ home had burned down in the Black Forest fire, they didn’t like being so far away from family and decided to pack up and move the operation cross-country. It took a year and a half of hunting and six months of renovations to settle into the perfect location downtown: the former Meeker Music shop on East Bijou Street. Ladyfingers Letterpress now designs, produces and fulfills some 12,000 to 15,000 cards a month, alongside community classes and a small retail space.
Walk in the shop on any given day, and you’ll find Torsone lettering a new design, or Calderini loading cards into the presses to be inked, scored or cut. Amid a tech-heavy world, perusing shelves of cards with the rhythmic kathunk of a working 1904 press in the background is soothingly old-school.
“I think when somebody sends a card, it shows that they put some effort into it. They didn’t just say, ‘Oh, it’s your birthday. I’m just gonna send you a text and be done in two seconds,’ ” Torsone says. “I think it means a lot, even more now, because doing something digitally is so easy; sending a card means so much more.”
Calderini adds, “A lot of our cards make reference to technology—text message puns or short abbreviations that you would use in your correspondence with someone through email or Facebook…. I find it a really fascinating moment in what’s going on right now in the world and what people are attracted to.”
More than 500 stores around the world are attracted to their cards. As much as they appreciate their international presence, the two also love being a part of the local community, especially when they can share their process through tours on First Fridays, free family classes or paid workshops like “Print Your Own Damn Business Card.”
“A lot of people come in, and they want us to print something for them,” Calderini says. “We’re not in a place where we can do that. We’d rather teach them how to do it themselves.”
In other words, you have to birth your own baby.