Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Come Over and Print!

One of the great things about having our own print shop is inviting friends over to print. We get to share our hobby with others and have a get-together with people we like. Often we share lunch or dinner, too. It’s a fun way to socialize and to do something we enjoy at the same time.

This past weekend we had our friend Lynn over to print a bookmark. She’d chosen a favorite quote on writing, an interest she and I share. Lynn is my writing partner, and got me started blogging. Her weekly blog, Present Letters, is a memoir written as a series of letters to her mother. You can view it at this web address: http://www.lynnobermoeller.blogspot.com. Her blog this week features her write-up and pictures of her printing session at our house.

Lynn has worked in our print shop before, so she knows something about letterpress. And she’s willing to be patient and work with a project until it looks just right.

We began by suggesting possibilities for typefaces. Since we have over 900 fonts, it helps to narrow things down a little! Lynn chose Grolier, an old MacKellar Smiths and Jordan script patented in 1887. After she set it in 24 point, the quote filled three lines, a nice size for a bookmark.

Lynn looked at a number of cuts that related to books and writing. She ended up with an older cut of a quill pen and inkwell that harmonized well with the quote. She proofed the type she’d set on our Poco proof press, and corrected the inevitable typos.

We dug around on our paper shelves and came up with some possibilities. Lynn decided on a heavyweight grey stock and black ink – a classic look. She also set “Printed by Lynn Obermoeller in the Mullens’ Printshop” in 8 point Garamont vertically at the right end of the bookmark.

After a little more tweaking to position the cut in just the right spot, the form was ready for lockup. We inked up our 8 x 12 Chandler and Price, put the chase in the press, and positioned the gauge pins.

The first impression on plain paper was nice and even – no big makeready problems this time! A few more measurements with the line gauge to make sure everything was straight, and the bookmark was ready to roll. Showtime! Lynn hand-turned the big flywheel of the press and triumphantly held up her first impression. Perfect!

She produced several more bookmarks for an edition of 75. Then this most courteous of guests helped us distribute the form! After all the letters, spaces, leads, and slugs were back in place, we adjourned upstairs to gloat over the bookmark we’d printed. What a fun way to spend time with a friend – come over and print something! We heartily recommend it.

Lynn sets type for the quote on her bookmark.

The form is locked up in the chase, ready for the press.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Al Frank's "Boutique de Junque"

While attending the 1968 APA Wayzgoose with my family, I got the opportunity to visit a printer’s landmark now long gone − Al Frank’s printing supply warehouse at 947 West Cullerton in Chicago. I had to beg to go there with my dad and our printer friends the Worleys. The neighborhood surrounding the place was rundown and rough, not a place to take your teenaged daughter. But Lillian Worley helped me to talk my dad into it, and so the four of us set off.

By 1968 Al Frank’s “Boutique de Junque” was a well known printer’s mecca. In the printing salvage business since 1931, Al had stuffed five cavernous floors with presses, cutters, type, cuts, borders, galleys, and whatnot hauled in from print shops he bought. Everything was jumbled throughout the warehouse, but there was a rough order to the place: machinery on the first floor, wood type and miscellaneous on the second floor, metal type on three, equipment on four, and the overflow crammed onto five.

The building had its own character. Stairs and a balky freight elevator connected the floors. Plumbing was ancient and often non-functional. I felt lucky to be there in summer, since Dad had told me how cold the unheated building was in the winter months. The only way to warm up in winter was to join Al on the loading dock, where he burned junky cuts and beat-up type cases in an old 55 gallon drum.

The place was informal to say the least. There were no signs or price tags. You foraged through the warehouse, then brought things to Al, who’d squint at your pile of loot and name a price. I felt excited to be there, and was determined to help my dad find the good stuff. And I didn’t care how much dirt I had to plow through to do it!

I eagerly explored all five floors. Dusty type cabinets, heaps of galleys, skids of paper, and piles of standing forms mingled with old bathroom fixtures pulled out of print shops. In the middle of summer it was hot and sticky, especially on five. Pigeons cooed in the rafters and dotted merchandise with droppings. Never one to be daunted, Lillian Worley checked a metal rack swathed in plastic and discovered a line of women’s dresses. “You know, these aren’t half bad,” she said, laughing as she pulled one out and held it up for size.

As he always did at Al Frank’s, my father found typographical gold that day: a handful of old cuts, some beautiful borders, and a couple of quaint old typefaces half hidden in the dust and debris. And I loved being there, too. Visiting Al Frank’s was a huge thrill, a marvelous printing treasure trove that I wanted to see again. But as luck would have it, I never did. And in 1981, the big old warehouse burned to the ground. There was almost nothing left for Al’s son Jack Frank to salvage other than scrap metal.

The demise of Al Frank’s “Boutique de Junque” marked the end of an era of supreme typographical treasure hunting. But anyone who was there will never forget the place. What an adventure!

An early business card of Al Frank's, pre-dating modern telephone numbers and zip codes.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Border Piece Reunion

Have you been to a class reunion? Some people look the same, others you wouldn’t know if you passed them on the street. Yet you share memories of a time when you were together.

I like to imagine that for pieces of old combination borders, it’s like a “border piece reunion”. Corners, flourishes, and doodads that have been separated for years are now in the process of being reunited in our print shop.

It started with my husband and I labeling some metal drawers full of border, separated for years in my dad's typecases. We decided to number the drawers and print pressure sensitive samples for the front of them. As we set specimen lines of borders, we began to notice border pieces that belonged with other border pieces.

Many borders are simple, consisting of a single character or a character with corners. But others, we discovered, are more involved. Border pieces that look nothing alike can combine to form intricate patterns. Some of the more elaborate combination borders, such as those once manufactured by MacKellar, Smiths, and Jordan Type Foundry, create entire scenes. Yet border pieces are often separated in print shops since they don’t resemble each other.

We started studying specimen books, and soon books were spread all over the house. What started as an afternoon’s labeling project became an obsession as we discovered more border pieces that went together.

As we worked, combination borders began to slowly reunite in our cases. Inexplicable squiggles and boring lines joined fancy cartouches and alternate corners to form new borders. Often a few characters in a border were missing. Then, hooray! − we’d find them in another case or galley. What a thrill, to see an old border back together again after so many years! Often some characters were acquired from one print shop and the rest from another.

For example, Combination Border #99 by MacKellar, Smiths, and Jordan, patented in 1885 by Herman Ihlenberg, combines loops and swirls of ribbon with small floral pieces and pictures of cherubs. We didn’t realize it, but we already had the ribbon pieces from my father’s print shop, acquired in La Crosse, Wisconsin and Duluth, Minnesota years ago. Then we bought a dusty, battered case filled with old border pieces from an antique shop in Paducah, Kentucky. That case included small floral pieces from the same border. We still don’t have the cherubs, but we now have enough border pieces to print Combination Border #99.

And that’s just one success story: we’ve found Gray Border, Mazarin Ornaments, Abbot Border, Stylus Border, and others. Exciting to see these old borders reunited again − and now they’re more usable to us, too!

Border pieces for Combination Border Number 99,designed by Herman Ihlenberg for MacKellar, Smiths, and Jordan in 1885.

Our metal border drawers are easier to use now that they're labeled.

Border drawer containing Gray Border, Combination Border #99, Mazarin Ornaments, and others.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Baseball, Printing, and the 4th of July

Baseball cuts have always been popular, as these pages from a Barnhart Brothers and Spindler type specimen book illustrate. We’re more familiar with printing than old-time baseball, but a few years ago we had the opportunity to learn more. And we received a special gift from a friend in the process.

An old letterpress newspaper office in Illinois, in business for 150 some years, was disposing of its printing equipment, type, and cuts. Another local couple and my husband and I bought the type and cuts in the shop and divided them between us. Among the more interesting items was a copper electrotype of baseball players.

The cut measures about 8 ½ by 8 inches, one of the largest cuts we have, and is mounted on wood. The detail on it is as sharp as ever, and it prints beautifully. My husband consulted with a friend at the Baseball Hall of Fame, and according to him the uniforms and equipment illustrated on the cut date back to the 1880’s.

We often open up our print shop to visitors, and one day our next door neighbor Jack Kraemer came over to check things out. A talented woodcarver, Jack was fascinated by the image of the baseball players. He asked to borrow a proof of the cut to see if he could carve the batter and catcher. Then he presented us with the statue pictured below at one of our annual 4th of July get-togethers.

It was amazing to me to see how Jack was able to transform the flat image of the cut into a three dimensional wood carving. We proudly display the cut and the wood carving together in our print shop. It feels like they belong together since both of them preserve a 130 year old baseball game where the details might otherwise have been forgotten.

At this year’s 4th of July picnic we asked Jack to autograph his wood carving and pose for a picture with it. Celebrate Independence Day − long live Freedom of the Press!

The cut itself is amazingly detailed and prints very well.

Jack displays his woodcarving of old-time baseball players.

The baseball display in our basement print shop.