Wednesday, April 27, 2011
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
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!
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Some of my favorite printer’s cuts relate to transportation ― by locomotive, biplane, steamboat, clipper ship, Model T Ford, hot air balloon, or even horse-drawn hearse! Most of these vehicles are dated since printer’s cuts aren’t a 21st century item, but that’s part of their charm. No cuts of supersonic jets, bullet trains, or space shuttles exist as far as I know, but that’s okay. I’m perfectly content to stick with the old stuff!
Letterpress cuts of old cars can be light-hearted and humorous, as the pictures above and below show. It’s a world few people remember first-hand, when the automobile was a novelty, and driving on dirt roads either an adventure or an exercise in frustration. And then there are the logos for old cars you can’t buy anymore ― Auburn, Durant, Packard, Studebaker, and Nash ― all collectible and fun to play with.
I’ve written about train logos before, but didn’t get a chance to show any cuts of the trains themselves. Many of these were given to us by a friend who was a former employee of Con Curran, a St. Louis firm that printed for railroads.
Boats are another area of cuts to explore, and we especially enjoy them since my husband is a steamboat enthusiast. We were fortunate enough to receive a collection of steamboat cuts through our good friend Jimmy Swift who wrote for the Waterways Journal, a St Louis river-based magazine. We met Jimmy volunteering for the former Golden Eagle River Museum (see badge below). Jimmy Swift was a wonderful historian and writer who truly loved the river. In his will he provided a free memorial river cruise for his friends, complete with dinner and old-time banjo music. We printed a memorial piece for that cruise, featuring some of the riverboat cuts Jimmy had given us.
Cuts of planes, trains, boats, and automobiles ― souvenirs of the past, and fascinating mementos to collect. One of our cut drawers below shows a few more kinds of transportation. How many can you spot?
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Ever wonder what happens when type nerds like my husband and myself visit printing displays at museums? Are we bored because we already know how the presses work? Not on your life!
Instead, we linger. After that first printing demonstration, most people head to another part of the museum. We’re too fascinated to move. Second demo, we’re still watching. Third demo, you guessed it, still there. After awhile the printer notices, and we get talking type. We share our card and pieces we’ve printed. Sometimes we’re even invited behind the scenes.
That’s what happened at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. We were thoroughly enjoying the depth of their printing collection: the type-casting machines and marvelous old time presses. After hanging out for maybe half a hour watching the demonstration, the printer learned we were fellow printing hobbyists. We ended up being invited to pull an impression on the wooden common press he was demonstrating.
Sometimes half the thrill is getting to know another printer. At the Farmer’s Museum in Cooperstown, New York, the employee demonstrating the press was interested in acquiring his own press someday. Since we were en route to a printer’s convention in New York City later in the week, we told him about it and he ended up attending.
Incidentally, most of our time at the Farmer’s Museum was spent in two places: in the regular print shop, and in a shop with a press for printing wallpaper (something we’d never seen before). We had free tickets to the Baseball Hall of Fame, but we never got there – having too much fun hanging out in print shops!
Sometimes we just luck out. At a prominent museum in the American Southwest, we were disappointed to hear the print shop was closed for renovations. Wandering into the courtyard, we spotted a man wearing what from a distance looked like a printer’s apron. Could it be? We asked him and sure enough, he was the printer. After talking awhile, we were invited behind the scenes and got to see the shop after all.
I need to mention one more printing display: this one at the Missouri Historical Society where my husband works. Notice the video display explaining how this old cast iron press from the Waterloo Advocate works. That’s my husband, demonstrating the press. He loved doing it, too!
Type nerds never get tired of print shops. It’s an endless addiction. Printer’s ink gets in your blood, so to speak. You can’t get enough. Historic sites and museums with print shops rise to the top of your “must see” list. You spend hours. You take pictures of everything. It’s a disease, but an thoroughly enjoyable one to have.