By Elle McLogan

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – What do a NYC sewer grate, a slice of pizza, and a bedbug have in common?

All three are designs available at Casey Rubber Stamps in the East Village.

WEB EXTRA: Retro Relics and Mysteries Abound at Mother of Junk

“We make all kinds of wonderful stamps—dogs, cats, planes, trains,” said the shop’s proprietor John Casey.

“I’m the only person making novelty rubber stamps in the city,” he said. “We sell what we make.”

WEB EXTRA: See the Rare Treasures Hidden Inside the New York Public Library

Casey’s stamp collection is unified by a curated, antique aesthetic.

“My taste in art is very conservative,” he said.

There’s one style of design you won’t see on a stamp at Casey’s.

“I don’t do cute. We’re not into the Hallmark look,” he said. So while there are no emojis on his shelf, he’ll be happy to make one for you: Custom designs are available to order.

Casey peruses old encyclopedias, uncovering illustrations that will make good stamps.

“We do logos. We do wedding invitations. We do signatures. We do photographs. We do children’s drawings. If it can be rendered in black and white, we can make it into a stamp,” Casey said.

Even jokes among colleagues are born into stamps.

“We do goofy things that people want, expressions that people say in the office, giving their boss a hard time,” he said.

In the workshop at the back of the store, the hand-cranked machinery hasn’t seen an update in decades.

“Any guy from 1940 could walk in here and, other than the computers, could make stamps with my equipment with no problem,” Casey said.

The hands-on process of peeling, cutting, and gluing a new stamp can take eight hours. Even so, he prefers doing things the old-fashioned way.

WEB EXTRA: Behind the Scenes at Brooklyn’s Oldest Chocolate Factory

“A lot of the commercial places have changed to this liquid polymer material—which is semi-transparent—or laser cutting. It’s quicker. It’s cheaper. It’s easier. But the old-style way of making stamps with a negative, a plate, and a mold produces a much better stamp,” he said. “I have 30-year-old stamps, and you wouldn’t know I didn’t make them yesterday.”

Casey is a native of Cork, Ireland. His passion began there in childhood when a local print shop made a stamp just for him. “I just thought this was incredible,” he said.

He pursued a career in stamps after his 1967 move to New York City, where he felt right at home.

“New York is a town of misfits, and so I fit in perfectly,” he said.

When he began working in the East Village in 1974, he ran one of many independent stores in the area. These days, they are fewer and farther between, as chain stores multiply.

In changing times, Casey Rubber Stamps has found a niche that persists.

“Many years ago, people would say, ‘Oh, the computer’s going to put you out of business.’ And I knew intuitively that it wouldn’t,” Casey said.

He says that many of his regulars are computer graphic artists looking to work with a tangible material, to feel the weight of a stamp in their hand and get their fingers covered in ink.

“The computer keyboard does not give the same kind of tactile feel that the rubber stamp does,” he said.

He appreciates a rubber stamp’s versatility.

“You increase or decrease the pressure to get a whole different effect,” he said. “For a low-tech item, they can do an awful lot.”

He is certain that his shop wouldn’t survive without regular customers.

“A small business like this, if you can’t have repeat customers, you’re in trouble,” he said.

Casey takes a convivial approach to sales, often befriending his regulars.

“The only difference between me in the store here and me in the pub is that I drink more in the pub,” he said.

But he admits that it’s not all fun.

“A small business has 1,001 problems. That goes for any small business. And you’ve just got to work through them,” he said. “10 percent of the time, it drives me crazy. There’s always something going wrong. There’s always some frustration that gets annoying. But that goes for any job. And 90 percent of the time, it’s great.”

Casey Rubber Stamps
322 E 11th Street
New York, NY 10003
(917) 669-4151

What’s something few people know about but everybody should? Whatever it is, Elle McLogan is tracking it down on The Dig. Join her hunt for treasures hidden across our area. Follow Elle on Twitter and Instagram.

Elle McLogan