Memories of Old Town’s Peerless printer

       Shirley Bonds, owner or co-owner of the Peerless Graphics printing company from the 1940s to the 1970s and a contributor in recent years to the volunteer Old Colorado City Historical Society (OCCHS), was honored at a recent meeting of the OCCHS board.

In a photo taken in 1981 or '82, Shirley Bonds poses with Dave Hughes (left) and Ramon Castillo (then-president of the Old Colorado City Historical Society) to receive a plaque showing what the site of Bonds' Peerless Graphics business had been in 1862.
Courtesy of Dave Hughes and Shirley Bonds

       According to society co-founder and continuing member Dave Hughes, $10,000 in grants from Bonds have helped the OCCHS to “digitize” its holdings (which means to preserve them in computer format). In return, the board presented Bonds with a 65-page collection (including a CD), with images digitized from 220 aging negatives and prints that she'd donated to the society.
       According to Bonds, she'd obtained the collection during her Peerless days when she bought the darkroom of photographer A.E. “Tex” Davis, whom she actually never met.
       After the board meeting, Bonds took time to talk with the Westside Pioneer - although not with excess enthusiasm. “You aren't really going to write about me, are you?” she asked later.
       Growing up on North Prospect Street (where she still lives), Bonds had never dreamed of being a printer. “For women back then, there wasn't much you could do, outside of working at Woolworths or being a secretary or a nurse,” she said.
       But around age 20 she met two brothers from Cripple Creek (Melvin and Robert Ericksen), who owned a hand-fed press and type cases. World War II was on, and the three of them wound up in the same car pool for the Aircraft Mechanics plant in the old Alexander film facility on North Nevada Avenue, where workers were making parts for the war effort.
       The brothers taught her what they knew about printing. It appealed to a side of her that's “mechanically inclined,” as she put it.
       In 1945, the year the war ended, the trio joined to purchase Peerless Printing. (They later had to change the name to Peerless Graphics because there already was a Peerless Printing in Denver, Bonds noted.) It was a one-man business downtown. “The man who owned it insisted we also buy his house and goat,” Bonds remembered with a grin.

During a recent visit to the Old Colorado City History Center, Shirley Bonds is shown with the book the Historical Society printed, using old photos and negatives she'd donated.
Westside Pioneer photo

       A year later, Bonds and the Ericksens moved Peerless to Old Colorado City, in conjunction with their purchase of the weekly Colorado Springs Independent newspaper and printing business at 2526 W. Colorado Ave. This was the original Independent. It was an offshoot of Colorado City's Iris newspaper, which started in 1889, and it finally folded around 1950 (Bonds could not recall the exact year.)
       There was no political motive for owning a newspaper. “None of us really liked newspaper work,” Bonds said, and there wasn't enough money for reporters anyway - although the owners did hire “Westside kids to put headline type back in the cases,” she said.
       The only member of management who was mentioned in the Independent's staff box was Melvin's wife Elizabeth, who was chiefly a proofreader. “The rest of us didn't want our names out there,” Bonds said.
       So what was the main reason for buying the Independent? “We just wanted a bigger press,” she said. “It had two or three hand-fed presses. It was a going business.”
       As for big Westside stories in those years, there really weren't any, as Bonds recalls it. “Things had a different rhythm then,” she said.
       Later in the '50s, for about three years, Peerless printed another prominent newspaper - the daily Free Press, which went on to become the Colorado Springs Sun (later bought out by the Gazette for $30 million in 1986).
       The Free Press job came about after the Gazette's union crew went on strike. Both the Gazette (lacking a crew) and the union (lacking equipment) asked Peerless to print their publications. The decision was pretty easy. Bonds and both brothers were all union printers themselves.
       Over the years, as one of the larger printers in the city, Peerless handled a variety of jobs. Among the major customers were different schools (“we did an awful lot of school work”), greyhound racing forms (“it was a tough job and took all night long, but it paid the bills”) and Colorado College ('we printed their newspaper and whatever they needed”).
       Adding to the work challenges was the need to transition to modern offset printing, which required the purchase of new equipment, and to slowly expand the business. After finishing buying Peerless, the partners bought the building at 2526 W. Colorado, and later 2528 and 2530 as well.
       Bonds finally closed Peerless in 1978. Her partners had died or moved on by 1974, and she ran it the last four years by herself.
       She decided it was time to try other things. “I was trapped in the print shop,” she said. At times, “I was printing day and night.”
       Afterward, Bonds helped start a bookstore (the Kinnikinnick) that operated for several years in the western end of the space where her print shop had been. She has since sold the buildings that had housed Peerless. Now 86, she's enjoying a retirement that's included travel and golf.

Westside Pioneer article