Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Type Lust: It's A Good Thing!

How many fonts of type are enough? 200? 500? 1000? And how many cuts, borders, and ornaments does a person need? For letterpress printers there’s always another typeface, border, or cut just around the corner. It’s truly an addiction, and pretty much incurable. But there’s a lot of fun and camaraderie along the way.

My husband Bob and I enjoyed that camaraderie this past weekend at the Great Northern Printers’ Fair in Mount Pleasant, Iowa. This three day affair offers both new and experienced printers the opportunity to actually use any of the machines housed at Printers’ Hall. If you’re new you can ask for coaching on a machine, and you’ll get a printer who’s happy to walk you through the process.

On Friday afternoon Bob and I tried out the Reliance hand press, a newly renovated addition to the Printers’ Hall collection. With our older, worn wood type, inexperience with a hand press, and some problems with the alignment of the platen and bed of the press, we had difficulty getting a good impression. Probably with a little more time we could have gotten it right. But we had a great time anyway, and learned something about printing on hand presses in the process. No point in hanging back, you’ve got to jump in and get your hands dirty!

Below are some of the projects that were going on in Printers’ Hall at the Great Northern. All kinds of presses were in action, including the giant Babcock newspaper press. Printers young and old tried their hand at using the various machines.

The Saturday swap meet was certainly a highlight of the weekend. Eager buyers checked out the rectangle of tables early, looking for treasure. It was a typographical feeding frenzy, true type lust gone wild. What was out there? Would that long sought after typeface, border, or cut be on somebody’s sale table?

After the first rush the group settled in, making the circuit over and over, buying, selling, talking. As exotic wood type fonts and old specimen books sold, interest in rusty galleys and guess-what-it-is press parts picked up. There was plenty of time to chat, exchange ideas and printing samples, and get to know the other people there.

Personally, we had a great time! We met a lot of talented young printers just starting out, and caught up with some of our long-time printing friends at the same time. United in our love for the same fascinating, inky process, time truly flew by. Will we be back next year? You’d better believe it!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Moving A Print Shop: Not For Wimps!

Moving a letterpress print shop is not for the faint of heart. It’s not something you undertake lightly, pardon the pun! Yet move a print shop we did, and not just across town but some 450 miles. It was an ordeal to put it mildly, but happily we and the shop emerged unscathed in the end.

The moving process began with packaging over 600 type cases, cut cases, galleys, and miscellaneous items for transit. We used cardboard and stretch wrap to protect type and cuts from spilling or being scratched up.

Here’s a shot of my husband Bob hauling type from the basement into a staging area in the garage of our old house. It was a major workout for him, with the obstacles of a narrow stairwell, doors in the way, and a hairpin turn at the top of the stairs.

Over several weeks, the garage filled. A hobby printing friend dismantled our 8x12 Chandler and Price press, 7x11 Pearl press, and Peerless Gem paper cutter for the move. We rented a truck, then a van to haul some of the paper, cuts, and type, then hired professional movers to do the rest.

Moving day came, and we hoped we were ready. Our four movers were big strong guys. They quickly set to work loading the shop and our entire household onto a moving van. The biggest challenge for them was getting our 8x12 C & P press up the stairs. Even stripped down, the press weighed some 500 pounds. I think the sound of it coming upstairs one step at a time (1-2-3... whump!) and shaking the entire house will haunt me for a long time.

Meanwhile at our new house, we had to plan what to put where in the new printshop. Armed with our many measurements and painter’s tape, we arranged and rearranged. We figured once something was in place, we weren’t about to go moving it! We divided our print shop into three areas: the main shop downstairs, a print studio upstairs for designing and proofing pieces, and a paper storage space in the utility room.

The movers arriving and the unloading began. We were amazed how smoothly it all went. Most of the type cases were moved from garage to garage.

Over the next few weeks, my husband Bob began hauling type cases into the new print shop. It was easier going down with a wider stairway. We arranged, rearranged, unpacked, and fiddled with the new shop and print studio. It was a challenge thinking of how to set up two locations to operate efficiently, and one we’re still fine-tuning.

But here's our new, red-carpeted print shop, complete with autumn mural, and our upstairs printing studio. We’re finally ready to print, after over three months of moving the shop. And we have promised ourselves NEVER to move again! But all in all, it went well. Hooray, Xanadu Press is up and running!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Perfect Print Shop

What letterpress printer doesn’t dream about the perfect print shop? I know my father Gary Hantke did. No matter how many fonts of type or ornaments or borders are in any print shop, there’s always that one illusive item that would make it absolutely perfect.

But by the end of the 1980’s, my father had assembled a pretty amazing print shop, full of wonderful type, cuts, or other printing paraphernalia. Decades of hard work and patient sorting had given him literally tons of options for printing.

Unfortunately in the last two years of his life Dad was too ill to print. His declining health wouldn’t allow him to stand and set type, much less run the printing press. He tried to content himself with immersion in one of his other hobbies, stamps. But more than once Dad told me how much he wished he could print.

After my father’s passing in 1990, my husband and I printed a flyer to be given away to those attending the memorial service. A good printer friend, Rich Hopkins of Hill and Dale Press, produced a booklet of his memories of my father that was distributed throughout our APA printing hobbyist group.

As the months wore on after his death, I wonder how Dad was doing. I missed him terribly. Was he happy? Was he still separated from the printing hobby he loved so much?

Then one night I had a dream. In it I saw my father in a huge, beautiful print shop. He was designing printed pieces, happily collaborating with printing friends who had passed on before him ― Emerson Duerr, Jim Eckman, Norman Forgue, and others.

The unique thing about this print shop in the dream was that it was absolutely unlimited. No type, cut, ornament, or border was lacking. Anytime a printer needed anything, all he or she had to do was think of the item and it would manifest, ready for use. All the setting and press work was still done by hand. That’s the fun of the hobby, after all. But anything a printer could imagine using ― like ornaments from the Bruce Foundry, or fanciful borders from MacKellar, Smiths, and Jordan ― was available instantly through thought.

What a print shop! It made me so happy to think about Dad working there, enjoying the company of his dearest friends.

This printing blog was started a year ago, and it’s been a joy to produce. With a long-distance move of the print shop in my husband’s and my near future however (see April 27th blog), I’ll be taking a break until the move is complete, possibly some time in June. By then I’m sure there’ll be lots more to share.

I’ll close for now with the printed piece my father always kept posted over his Chandler and Price press. Since the long s characters make it hard to read, here’s the text: “I have been obliged by the sheer Weight of Fatigue to leave my Post, & repair to my Dwelling-house, until I have recovered my usual Composure. All Patrons will find me of a cheerful Demeanor, and in good Readiness for Business or for Consultation upon my Return on the Morrow.”

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Letterpress for Mother's Day

Though not a printer herself, my mother Ruth was always a big supporter of letterpress. She had an eye for good design, too. Often my father Gary Hantke would have her proofread and take a look at a piece he was about to print. Mom would catch the typos and suggest a bit of white space here or there.

Mom became good friends with several of the printer’s wives, and enjoyed attending Dad’s annual APA printing conventions. Often she managed to charm free cuts, paper, or ink from vendors at the swap meets. Mom and Dad even took a month long trip to Europe with one of the couples from APA.

She was also a wonderful mother. My sister and I never lacked for attention. She sewed our Halloween costumes, Easter and Christmas dresses, and spring and fall wardrobes. She loved to garden and play the piano, and was an excellent cook whose homemade bread, coffeecakes and pizza were legend.

In 1966 Dad printed a lovely poetry booklet for Mother’s Day and gave it to her. All that setting and design work, and he just printed one copy ― for her. I found it with some of her papers after she died.

After my mother’s death in 2008, my husband and I printed a memorial piece in her honor. The type was Murray Hill, her favorite typeface, and the quote was surrounded by a border of flowers and musical notes.

I miss you, Mom! Thank you for all you taught me and gave me. And Happy Mother’s Day. Love, Carole

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Moving A Print Shop -- Oh, No!

Have you ever done something you hope you’ll never have to do again? Moving a print shop is like that. As my husband and I plan the cross-country move of our print shop from Missouri to Wisconsin, we are dreading it. Transporting a print shop is not for the faint of heart. It takes a sturdy soul to haul tons of metal type and cast iron machinery across the country.

Nineteen years ago my husband and I moved my father’s print shop from Wisconsin to St. Louis. Dad’s basement print shop was average in size, but jam-packed. Every nook and cranny held more boxes of stuff, especially type from the Duluth print shop Dad had bought out a decade ago. We hauled goodies out of that print shop until we were ready to drop.

It took two U-Haul trucks, both grossly overloaded, to handle all the type, machinery, paper, cuts, leads and slugs, and miscellaneous. On one of the runs we hit a torrential rainstorm, worrisome since the truck had been unevenly loaded and one side rode five inches below the other! Thankfully we made it safely, and to our great relief some printing friends showed up to help us unload the truck.

Getting the print shop installed in our basement took several weeks. The garage became our staging area. Each type case had to be hauled downstairs individually. The presses and cutter had been taken apart to make them easier to move, but were still unbelievable heavy. I remember dragging Chandler and Price press pieces down the basement steps. It was like hefting brontosaurus bones!

Gradually our St. Louis print shop assumed its current shape. But my husband and I never forgot the ordeal of moving. Over the past nineteen years, we’ve made conscious efforts to reduce the tonnage of the shop. At just about every printers’ gathering we’ve pushed out huge quantities of heavy types like Cheltenham Bold and Franklin Gothic, peddling them for little fonts of old display faces. We’ve sold paper piled high on hand trucks, excess leads, slugs and galleys, and small machinery. We’ve recycled junk type to our local area type founders. The 1100+ fonts we brought to St. Louis now number about 900. Still, there’s more than a ton of print shop to move. Good grief!

Now piles of type cases are stacking up in our garage as we prepare for the big move. Since we’re now nineteen years older, we’ll be hiring help. No sense throwing your back out and hardly being able to walk! But we’ll be doing some of the work ourselves, too. And the ever-useful garage is acting as our staging area again.

We are excited about our new Wisconsin printery, but will be ever so relieved once the heavy stuff has been hauled in and we’re settled again. Moving a print shop ― it’s certainly not for wimps!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Favorite Wood Type Faces

It’s hard to pick a favorite wood type because it’s all so fascinating! Most wood type is old, a relic of a time when casting large sizes of metal type was difficult to achieve without bubbles or other imperfections in the molten lead. To add to the challenge, large metal type was heavy and hard to manipulate in forms. Specialized manufacturers of wood type sprang up and did a booming business throughout the 19th and early 20th century.

One of my favorite wood types, Gothic Flourish, is shown below. It was manufactured by Hamilton Wood Type circa 1892. I love the odd squiggly letters with long tails that extend into each other.

Another favorite is the Tuscan Antique that makes up the words “Amazing Hours” shown on the poster below. There were many varieties of Tuscan manufactured in wood ― this one dates back to 1859.

Most wood type manufacturers stamped their name into the capital A’s of a font. Here’s an example from Cooley of New York.

I love wood ornaments, too, though they’re pretty hard to find. The random corners and decorative ornaments shown below all came to us from S.G. Adams, an old St. Louis printing firm. Unfortunately, we don’t always have four corners, which means we either need to make multiple impressions or improvise.

It’s fun to collect certain characters in wood. The piece below shows part of our collection of wood ampersands. Of all the characters, I think the ampersand is my favorite, maybe because it’s so swashy and carefree. That and the Q, which seem to be a different design in virtually each font of type made.

Sometimes you’ll find a piece of wood type with a letter on both sides. Usually you can tell which side was hand carved. If the printer ran out of a letter, he’d whittle the needed character on the back of another piece of wood type, and no one would be the wiser once the job was printed.

Wood type is a natural for printing posters. Below are some examples of posters printed by us and by members of our national APA printing group:

Wood type is so tactile, so beautiful in its own way. To me the carefully carved designs on old oiled wood are an art form in themselves. Happily, wood type is now being manufactured in the 21st century and used in letterpress design. But I still treasure the delightful old stuff in our basement. How I wish it could talk and share a little of the history of where it’s been!