In the 1920s and 30s John Fass handcrafted at least 10 miniature printing presses. He whittled, glued, and sanded wood to create remarkable replicas of Gutenberg-era printing presses.
In the mid 1920s John began using these mini printing presses to create Christmas cards, bookplates and other ephemera, to give to his friends. He named this press the Hell-Box Press, named for the print shop hellbox which letterpress printers use to store type after it is used on the press. John printed with at least two mini presses for his Hell-Box Press. These presses were 13 or 14 inches high, with beds measuring in at 3.25 x 4.25 inches.
In 1938 John produced his Hellbox masterwork, a mini type-specimen booklet titled The Hellbox Press Specimen Book. The book displays the typefaces John used on these mini presses. He printed this book in an edition of 15, in two colors on handmade paper, issued in a slipcase. John inked the type with his fingertip.
The book is a four-inch by three-inch "bit of wit" as the Guild of Book Workers described it in 1982. The rare book room of the New York Public Library received the first one off the press, numbered one of 15.
John's friend John Archer bound at least two of these book in full leather, one in calf and one in morocco.
In 1952 John exhibited items from his Hellbox Press in Chicago, at the exhibition "Printers at Play." This exhibit was mounted by R. R. Donnelly, in the gallery of their fine-press department, the Lakeside Press. The best American printers and designers were represented in this exhibition, including John's colleagues Bruce Rogers, and W. A. Dwiggins. The subsequent Publishers Weekly magazine awarded John's Hellbox Press the "smallest in the show" title, for the press with the smallest publications "both in size and circulation."
Above: One of the Hell-Box presses
John DePol created a wood engraving of this miniature Hellbox press for John's 1952 pamphlet titled The Hammer Creek has Engulfed the Hell-Box Press. John printed that booklet on his Albion tabletop press, which he had acquired several years earlier from Valenti Angelo.
That booklet marked the official end of John's Hellbox Press era, as he now was printing with the Albion, using the name Hammer Creek Press.
Photograph by A. Burton Carnes, with his calligraphic description of the press.