The Balloon Block

Jul 6, 2017 By Steven R. Peck, Publisher

It's not just a treasure-hunt object,

it's an homage to old-style printing

Newspapers are still the product of printing ink on paper, but the technology for doing it has changed considerably through the centuries.

Part of that history is kept alive each summer through our annual Riverton Rendezvous "Balloon Block" treasure hunt.

Many readers have followed the daily clues in the newspaper every July for more than 20 years now, but relatively few people have ever seen the balloon block itself. We run photographs of it with the clues, and we always include a picture of the lucky finder of the object. That person wins a Riverton Rendezvous balloon ride, cash and other prizes. This year, they include two jet-plane tickets to Denver and a couple of third-row seats in the infield for a Colorado Rockies baseball game.

The block itself is made of wooden letters which used to be an important part of printing the newspaper. Former Ranger pressman Paul Hugus devised a way to attach the letters to each other to form the word "balloon." People who see the object now note that the letters are backward in the balloon block. That reflects the way newspapers used to be printed. If you have ever had a rubber stamp for your own return address on envelopes, or if you remember the stamps that used to be used in your school library, you might have noticed that those letters are backward as well. The stamp was pressed into a pad of ink, then pressed again on a sheet of paper. In that fashion, the letters that were backward on the stamp were printed the right way on the paper.

That's exactly how the Balloon Block lettering would have worked. The photograph appearing with the daily clues shows the printed image made by the blue lock when it is inked and applied to paper.

From the earliest newspapers in colonial times through the mid-1970s, virtually every newspaper was printed in this general way. Today, newer technology called office at lithography has replaced raised-letter printing in most applications, although there are still some hobbyists and other special-use printers who continue to practice the form.

Each year when we hide the Balloon Block, we pay homage to both our own past and the past of the countless newspapers and print shops around the world who made use of hand-set type to create printed products for the masses.

Check out the first clue on page 5 of today's Ranger. And don't forget to notice the picture of the balloon block.

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