Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Printer's Dyslexia

If you’ve ever printed on a platen press (see illustration above), you’ve probably encountered what I call “printer’s dyslexia”. Most everyone struggles with it. It’s not a disease, though it can make you feel kind of sick as you make one mistake after another. It’s when you move your gauge pins (small metal clips that hold the paper) and your printed image ends up moving the opposite direction from what you intended.

This should be simple, I think, as I take a proof of my printed piece inside our Chandler and Price press. I want to move my image one pica (printer’s measure, equal to 1/6 of an inch) to the right, and half a pica (1/12 of an inch) down on the paper. But which way should I move my gauge pins? Right or left? Up or down?

Invariably I move the gauge pins the wrong way on the platen (surface that holds the paper) first. Oops! Careful, don’t tear the tympan paper. Measure again. Try again. Right or left? Up or down?

Then there’s the uphill/downhill dilemma. If the gauge pins are set unevenly, your lines will wander up or down. Try to correct it and you invariably overshoot. What once ran uphill now runs downhill. Time to try again!

It’s easier to avoid “printer’s dyslexia” on a cylinder press or a hand press. But since a platen press works like a clamshell, it presents challenges. Usually the top of your would-be printed piece is on top when you put the form into the press. So the top of your printed piece will print on the bottom of your piece of paper, on the part closest to you.

Confused yet? Now try to move your printed image to the left or the right, up or down. Try to fix uphill or downhill. Which way with the gauge pins? And which gauge pin? Good grief!

I really should try to work out a chart to help me remember how to move the gauge pins. Why I’ve never done that in all these years of printing on a platen press, I’ll never know. Here’s an attempt: 1) To move the image right, move the gauge pins left. 2) To move the image left, move the gauge pins right. 3) To move the image up, move the gauge pins down. 4) To move the image down, move the gauge pins up. 5) To correct an image running uphill, move the right gauge pin up, or the left gauge pin down. 6) To correct an image running downhill, move the right gauge pin down, or the left gauge pin up.

I think that’s right. Now I’ll try it again. Right or left? Up or down? Which gauge pin? Oh, drat! One good thing I’ve found about printer’s dyslexia – it certainly cultivates patience!

Test yourself! The red impression on the left is correctly placed. On the right the red is a little to the left and goes slightly uphill. Which way do you move the gauge pins?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Upper Case, Lower Case

Upper case, lower case – I remember learning to recognize upper case letters (CAPITALS) and lower case letters (non-capitals) in grade school. Did you ever wonder why they’re called that, though? Upper case and lower case are old printing terms that date back to the earliest days of letterpress.

When most letterpress printers (my husband and I included) set type, they use case brackets to hold the cases in easy reach over the case stands (see picture above). A set of case brackets can hold 2 full sized type cases. Most early type cases were designed to hold either capital letters or non-capital letters. The capital letter type case sat on the top section of the case brackets. The non-capital letter type cases with more frequently used letters went in easy reach below the capitals. So capitals became known as upper case, and non-capitals as lower case. The terms are so common now that we recognize them immediately.

Feeling out of sorts? That’s another old printing term. “Sorts” are extra pieces of type that keep a font of type from running out of a letter. They can be ordered from a type foundry or cast in-house, if you have the equipment. Some old time printers had their own casting machine to create “sorts” when letters got low. If you ran completely out of an important letter such as “e” in the middle of setting a printed piece, there was no way to finish it without casting more sorts. Then you certainly might feel “out of sorts”.

If you’re meeting someone new socially or going on a job interview, one of your primary concerns is making a good impression. “Making a good impression” is the primary goal of letterpress. Inked type presses into paper, creating an image or impression. Blurry, smeary, or illegible images make a poor impression; clear, clean, well inked ones create a good impression. You might even say that a letterpress printer makes a good impression by making good impressions!

One more printer’s expression that’s made its way into the language is the old saying, “Mind your P’s and Q’s.” It means to be careful about what you do in the smallest detail. Printing type is set into a composing stick in the opposite direction from the way we normally see it. Printers get used to it, but to most people it’s upward down (see photo below). Turn a lower case p and a lower case q upside down, and they can be hard to tell apart. For that matter, a lower case b and a lower case d are easy to confuse, too. So the old expression maybe should have been, “Mind your P’s and Q’s and B’s and D’s!”

To me it’s fascinating how printing expressions have become an everyday part of the English language. So the next time you use upper case or lower case letters, feel out of sorts, mind your p’s and q’s, or try to make a good impression, you’ll know how the whole thing got started!

Can you read the letters in this composing stick?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Schori Press

One of the most interesting and delightful people I met as a child through my father’s association with letterpress was Ward Schori. Ward and his wife Marty lived in Evanston, Illinois when I first met them in the early 1960s. Ward ran a commercial printing business there called The Schori Press, but was also an enthusiastic letterpress hobbyist.

Enthusiasm was a defining term for Ward. He loved letterpress printing in its every aspect: designing and printing books, booklets, and ephemera; acquiring new type and cuts; and talking with others about printing.

Ward loved to talk, and he talked with his hands. I vividly remember riding in Ward’s car as he drove the freeways of Chicago, periodically taking his hands off the wheel to emphasize a point as he talked with my dad in the front seat. The mixture of enjoyment of Ward’s stories and absolute terror at the way he drove is something that will always stick with me. If the hands-free driving got a little too scary, Marty would gently chide him, “Now Ward, pay attention to the road.” That would last about five minutes, then Ward would be talking with his hands again.

Marty herself was a delight to know. An elegant woman with white hair in a French twist, she had a beautiful smile and a hearty laugh. I loved her wink, which she’d send my way every now and then. By the time I met them, Ward and Marty were grandparents. They raised their two grandchildren, who were about the same age as my sister and myself.

Together with my father Gary Hantke and his printing friend Emerson Wulling, Ward was a key organizer of the 1st Amalgamated Printers Association Wayzgoose in 1961. In those days the host provided food for the convention’s “picnic” that took place on Sunday. So Ward roasted a big turkey on his barbeque grill while Marty made side dishes, beverages, and dessert for all the printers in attendance.

At my first Wayzgoose in 1964 in Munster, Indiana, Ward encouraged me to enter the typesetting contest on the lawn in front of the motel. A case of type was set up on the tailgate of someone’s station wagon, and printers were timed as they set copy by hand, one letter and one space at a time. I was pretty young yet so I didn’t end up entering the contest, but I felt proud that Ward had believed in me.

In addition to regular sized books (he printed several), Ward became well known for his letterpress printed miniatures. He created over fifty of these intricate books, including some bound in hand-tooled leather from Spain. My husband and I are happy to have half a dozen Schori Press miniatures on our bookshelf today.

Part of the joy of being a hobby letterpress printer is getting to know other hobby letterpress printers. Ward and Marty Schori certainly stand out in my memory as two people I met through letterpress that I was privileged to know.

Title page of The Fortsas Bibliohoax, a private press book published by Ward Schori in 1986.

Six Schori Press miniature books and the full sized book "Printshop Nostalgia", all printed by Ward.

With the Schoris at the 1991 Wayzgoose in St. Louis, as we board the excursion boat "Belle of St. Louis". From left to right, Ward Schori, my husband Bob, Marty Schori, me, and my mother Ruth Hantke. Dad has just passed away the previous year.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Great Northern

One of the printers’ gatherings I’ve enjoyed in recent years is coming up soon: the Great Northern. This informal weekend event, started by the late Bill McGarry and now run in his honor, began as a swap/sell meet in the Minneapolis area. Now it’s grown and found a home at Midwest Old Threshers Museum in Mount Pleasant, Iowa.

Midwest Old Threshers is a working museum, complete with operational steam engines, old farm machinery (including threshing machines), dolls, an antique carousel, and a steam locomotive you can ride. It’s all wonderful to see. But to me the main attraction is Printer’s Hall. Thanks to the efforts of many hobby printers, Printer’s Hall is a working letterpress print shop full of antique machinery that’s fully operational.

The Great Northern Printer’s Fair is a golden opportunity to work with letterpress equipment firsthand. And there’s plenty of it: Vandercook presses, Linotype machines, a Heidelberg Windmill, an iron hand press, a steam-powered Babcock newsletter press, and an old folding machine that will amaze you as it reduces a full sheet of newsprint to manageable size. This year a Hickok ruling machine will be in action, too. All of these machines will be up and running for the Great Northern. But they’re not behind velvet ropes. You can actually work with them. In fact you’re encouraged to get inky and try them out. And if you’re new to letterpress, there are lots of experienced printers to help you out.

The icing on the cake is the Sale/Swap Meet on Saturday, followed by the Auction. Buyers wander around and study tables piled high with type, cuts, and every type of printing equipment you can imagine. There’s lots of opportunity to chat, share stories, and learn more about letterpress. My husband and I number ourselves among the hopelessly addicted, fascinated with what’s for sale and who’s there to talk with. And you never know when you’re going to score a terrific bargain at the auction on some item you’ve been eying!

Thursday starts with workshops, demonstrations, and instruction on the various pieces of equipment. Start a project and continue it on Friday, with expert help if you need it. Load up on letterpress type and gadgetry on Saturday at the Swap Meet and Auction. And get a chance to chat with some of the folks who love letterpress. In my experience, they’re some of the kindest, most helpful people you could imagine. What an opportunity for fun and camaraderie!

This year’s Great Northern runs September 16-18. If you’d like more information, contact Chuck Wendel at or Rick von Holdt at . Or check the July 7th posting on Briar Press:

Below are some pictures my husband and I have taken at the Great Northern over the years. We’ve certainly enjoyed being there!

Printing on the Chandler and Price platen press.

Demonstration of casting metal type by Skyline Type Foundry.

Preparing a form for the Babcock newspaper press.

Running the Babcock press is a two-person operation.

Take a ride on a steam locomotive at Midwest Old Threshers Museum.

Row upon row of old threshing machines greet you at the museum.

The Swap Meet in full swing. Old type, new type, cuts, gadgets, and equipment galore -- you can get it all here.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Ugly Duckling Typefaces

Some typefaces are like swans – graceful faces like Civilit√© and Grolier. Others are classic, like Caslon and Garamond. Then there are the ugly ducklings. Some people may disagree with my choices for “homeliest typeface award”− it’s a matter of personal taste. So if I’ve included one of your favorites, please forgive me!

Not every typeface ever designed is attractive or even functional. In some cases even their designer didn’t like them! Witness Goudy Stout, one of the ugliest typefaces I’ve ever seen, shown above.(Click on any picture above or below to enlarge it.) Frederic Goudy was a talented type designer who created many attractive typefaces. He designed Goudy Stout in 1930. Writing about it later, he said, “In a moment of typographic weakness I attempted to produce a ‘black’ letter that would interest those advertisers who like the bizarre in their print. It was not the sort of letter I cared for, but requests from some advertisers who saw the first drawings induced me to cut one size and try out the effect. I never cut any but the one size, although I threatened to cut other sizes if any were demanded. None were!”

Sometimes a typeface is looked down upon because it’s out of touch with the times. When I was a kid going to printers’ conventions in the 1960’s, Broadway and Boul Mich were considered to be gauche, ugly typefaces. Their 1930’s cubist look seemed dated at the time. Now Broadway and Boul Mich are used and sought after by letterpress hobbyists. So if you have an ugly typeface, you can always keep it and hope it comes back into fashion!

Boul Mich, an Art Deco typeface that's back in demand.

Broadway, which is similar to Boul Mich, is also back in vogue.

Another “out of fashion” typeface is Cheltenham. It was used heavily around 1910, replacing the quaint and occasionally bizarre Victorian typefaces that preceded it. To me Cheltenham is an ungainly, “plain Jane” face. It’s not terrible, but it’s not classic either. Letters fit together awkwardly in mass, and in the bold sizes it’s even less appealing. The other thing working against Cheltenham is supply and demand: it’s common. Hobby printers literally have tons of it.

Cheltenham Bold, one of the most common types available in the hobby printing world, is a work horse, though not particularly graceful.

I would personally nominate two candidates for “homeliest typeface award”. Thankfully we no longer own either of them! One of the ugliest typefaces in my opinion is Kaufmann Bold. It’s supposed to create a casual, hand lettered look, but to me it looks like the letters were squeezed out of a toothpaste tube.

Kaufmann Bold practically squiggles across the page. Someday I should try the toothpaste tube thing and see if I can replicate it.

The other candidate is Brush. It was designed as a contemporary script in the 1940’s. Today it’s a computer font that’s horribly misused in graphic design. Brush pops up all over, often mixed with other type that doesn’t blend with it at all. Try looking at commercial signs in any business district and see how much badly used Brush you see.

Here's Brush -- recognize it? It's everywhere.

So, which typeface do you think is the ugliest? Do you ever print with it?