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.


  1. Who could imagine that there are so many borders? Geez. It must take weeks just to decide on something you want to print. I could see what fun it is though to match all the pieces. That is some family reunion!

  2. Yes, it's hard to decide what border to use first when you've just discovered so many interesting ones! And it's fun locating all the pieces, like a big metal game of Concentration. You think you're missing a character and then you find it in another case. We are going to have to print several pieces using these marvelous old borders.