Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Mr. Willow Press: Gary Hantke

During the mid-1950’s my father Gary Hantke worked at Trane Company in La Crosse, Wisconsin as a designer of air conditioning equipment. Though still an active hobby letterpress printer, much of his energy necessarily went toward providing for his wife and two young daughters. By now his basement print shop housed about 20 fonts of type and two presses, a treadle 5 x 8 Pearl, and the faithful Baltimorean tabletop. Then he made an acquisition that absorbed him in letterpress printing in a big way.

My father learned that A.A. Liesenfeld, founder of a quality commercial print shop that had been in business for over 50 years, was being forced to sell his type and machinery because of poor health. As Dad tells the story in Brief Biography of a Basement Printer, “It was then that I visited him, hoping to buy a few fonts of used type. The old printer was reluctant to part with the material he had worked with for so long, but realized that he could never again use it.”

I visited A.A. Liesenfeld as a little girl, and remember he was kind to me. Dad had been having a hard time talking the old printer into selling the shop. Maybe Dad thought his daughter would help to establish his reliability. I wonder now if the old man somehow sensed his print shop would be carried on to the next generation. At any rate, he agreed to sell to my father.

Dad began hauling. And hauling. And manhandling literally tons of type and cases and equipment down the steep stairs into our basement. Fortunately there was an anchor point -- a large willow tree in our back yard. My father tied heavy ropes around its trunk to lower the 8 x 12 Chandler and Price press and 25” paper cutter into the shop.

So Dad named his press Willow. As he explains, “Custom dictates that any printery, private or commercial, have a name; and since this is perhaps the least costly item required, my shop too can afford this small luxury. It will be called The Willow Press, not for its flexibilities of use, but for the willow tree in the backyard. Had it not been for a stout rope slung around its trunk, the press might never have reached the basement in usable condition.”

Now the real work began, as Dad sorted galley after galley of standing forms, putting away type that hadn’t been distributed in years. The resulting cases of type overflowed. Apparently in the commercial shop it had been easier to cast new type rather than putting things back where they belonged.

After over a year of sorting, Dad got the shop in order. He kept it in order through years of use, and taught me the value of running a clean shop by keeping up with form distribution. To this day Bob and I distribute our forms soon after printing – most of the time! A good discipline -- thank you, Dad!

Advertisement for the Liesenfeld Printing Company - Notice the two-color registration, printed in two separate, carefully aligned impressions.

Dad setting up a form for the press. The form is locked up in a rectangular metal frame called a chase.

Dad with a copy of "Brief Biography of a Basement Printer". A 1923 ATF specimen book and a copy of a Gutenberg Bible page are on the desk in front of him. Notice also our 1950's era TV in the background.

Carole with the Chandler and Price press, shortly after it was moved into the house. The big paper cutter is on the left.

1 comment:

  1. I love how The Willow Press received its name! And how your dad came about getting into the business. Love the pictures too!