Growing up in Long Beach, California, Neil Shaver developed an interest in printing. He took a printing class in junior high from R. V. Stutsman, whom Shaver names among the three printers who had the most influence upon him. (The other two are Harry Duncan and John Anderson.) After serving in the Merchant Marine during World War II, Shaver moved to Omaha, where the family owned a chain of grocery stores called Shavers. In 1957, he returned to printing as a hobby. His output in the 1960s and 1970s was mostly job work for the grocery stores done on off set presses, but it was during this period that he acquired an antique Washington hand press, which he did not know how to operate. In 1964 he made contact with an Iowa City fine press printer, Kim Merker of the Windhover Press, who showed him how to use the Washington press. He started his career in fine printing by taking a class from Harry Duncan in 1978 at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, for whose class he produced Metonia, a book of poetry.
Most of his first books were poetry, because this is form adaptable for hand presses. But Shaver was uncomfortable with poetry. As he says in the Introduction to The Yellow Barn Press: A History and Bibliography, I was uncomforable with poetry simply because I did not feel qualified to accept or reject material. (p. xii) So when he came across a copy of The Old Printing Office by Frank Luther Mott, he was in more familiar territory, and in 1985, he brought out his fine press edition of this book. Quoting again from The Yellow Barn Press: A History and Bibliography: I made an interesting discovery with The Old Printing Office. It sold out almost at once. What I found out was that books about printing and books about books had a good market. From that time forward I have tried to stay with titles from that category. I have used other subjects a number of times, but I am always pleased when I find a title in the field of printing or books.
In 1966, Shaver and his wife Fran moved to rural Iowa, outside of Council Bluffs. On the property was a barn, which Shaver and Fran cleaned up and turned into his printing studio. Fran is credited with coming with the name Yellow Barn Press. In 1980, Shaver sold his grocery business and retired, turning his printing avocation into his vocation. He printed about two books a year. The first books were on the Washington pess, but after his sixth book, he began printing his books on a Vandercook, which is easier for one person to operate.
In 1983, he took a course from John Anderson at Fairleigh Dickinson Univeristy in New Jersey, and he and Anderson communicated from that point on until Anderson died in 1997. One of Shaver's books about printing is about Anderson's Pickering Press. Also during this trip, he met the engraver John DePol and they started a collaboration that lasted until DePol died in 2004.
Due to failing eyesight, Shaver closed the press in 2005, having brought out over thirty books.