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Ben Franklin

Letterpress Stamps


Letterpress stamps are the kinds of tools Ben Franklin used to produce his newspapers. The stamps were usually carved out of wood and reinforced with metal, but our letterpress stamps are going to be made of potatoes. The stamps would be put in a press with ink on them and then would be pushed onto the paper, thus creating a letter.


You'll need these materials to make the letterpress stamps:

  • 1 small, sharp kitchen knife (to be used by an adult)
  • 1 small, un-peeled potato for every two stamps you are going make
  • 1 marking pen
  • 1 cutting board
  • 1 spoon
  • a ruler
  • tap water
  • small sponges -- one for each color paint you use
  • tempera or acrylic paints in different colors (available in art-supply stores)
  • 1 newspaper
  • sheets of white paper


  1. Decide how many stamps you want to make.
  2. Ask an adult helper to cut each of the potatoes into halves. With your marking pen, draw the shape of the letters you wish to create for your stamps on the white part of the potato. Make sure to make big block letters, and to draw them BACKWARDS! Practice drawing your letters on a piece of paper before you try it on the potato.
  3. While using the cutting board, carve away the potato around the stamp/letter that you just drew. The stamp letter should stick out about 1/4 of an inch.
  4. Once you have cut out all of your stamps, dampen each of the sponges with water and then place them (1 in each) in the paint colors you've chosen.
  5. On the newspaper, press the stamp against the sponge. Now you are ready to press the stamp on your white paper. Continue this procedure to make more stamps. Enjoy.

How it Works

The carved out stamp (this case a potato) soaks up the paint on the protruding letter and then the paint is transferred onto the white paper when you press it down. It's quite simple, and Ben did it pretty much the same way.


Fun with Franklin is a great opportunity to learn and have fun, but if you are conducting an experiment you should be careful. Although the experiments on Fun with Franklin are relatively safe, you should make sure to do the following:

  • Follow all directions carefully and work in a clean, safe area.
  • Tell your parents/teachers you are conducting an experiment and ask if they want to help.
  • If you have questions or problems, feel free to ask an adult for help.
  • Don't do any experiment that you feel is too complex.

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