The words of Hermann Zapft below, printed by Christopher Wakeling at his Corvus Works Press, are a good description of just what ‘light and shadow and of three dimensions’ that letterpress provides.
To me, one of the most missed activites of ‘Lockdown’ has been music making with others. As a very amateur – and late starter – violinist, the joy of playing with two orchestras has become a huge part of my life. Both the ‘Truly Terrible Orchestra’ (a perfect description) and the Ness Sinfonia, a more serious recently formed orchestra, have given me access to music that I would never have ever expected to play. Notwithstanding that I am only able to play a percentage of the correct notes, the experience of making music with others is absolutely thrilling. Thus, so that I could share his words with musical friends, I thought it apposite to print the words of Noël Coward, who obviously realised the power and importance of music in difficult times.
The joy of a Private Press is that one can print exactly what one wants and I got great satisfaction today in printing a poster for a very old friend of mine Jonathan Thomson, who aged seventy five has just (today) completed the grulling Route 500 round the North of Scotland. He started at Inverness last Monday morning and got a good send-of from the Highland Council and some well-wishers, with myself and three other fiddlers playing him on his away with two pipe marches. His trip was to raise money for Post Traumatic Stress. That he was able to complete the route in under a week is a huge achievement. As he biked back to the Flora Macdonald statue in Inverness, his starting and finishing post, he merely said ‘Job done’. It was great to have been able to present him with a poster congratulating him on his outstanding achievement.
One of the joys of running a private press is that one can print for one’s friends as and when appropriate. For the last two years we have had a lovely French tenant (Natalie) living in the small flat over my print work-shop , who is now sadly having to go back to live in France. She has had to put up with my BBC Radio Three classical music, or classical CDs that I play when I am printing. So I have had some fun composing a small ‘bon voyage’ poster with wood type, and printing it on my small Stephenson Blake proofing press.
And a second poster is one I have specially done for the Nairn Book & Arts Festival; sadly this year held on line, but still with a remarkable programme of good talks and events. I have printed a special poster for this annual event in Nairn for the last ten years. This poster was the first in which I used my ‘new’ Victoria Press and the border type cast by Gloucester Typesetting. However, after much trial and effort the wood type was too solid for this press and I had to revert to the Stephenson Blake proofing press, which under the circumstances, and seeing the size of the A3 poster, produced a remarkably satisfactory result.
Some new type has just arrived, cast by the wonderful Stan Lane of Gloucester Typesetting Services. firstname.lastname@example.org
I had ordered for some 24pt Monotype Borders No. 198, 321 and 322 so that I can add decently sized borders to my posters. The type came beautifully packaged and I have broken it down and used some of 198 to make up a border that will shortly be printed.
Last year I was privileged to visit Stan Lane at his unique workshop near Gloucester and have an afternoon with him, amongst his casting machines and printing presses. What a real joy it was. Below are some pictures I took.
I have ‘borrowed’ the words below from Stan’s website as they give a very good description about both casting type and what letterpress printing really is.
Real printing works in three dimensions. It means pressing a letter with ink on it into paper. Most of what we see and read these days, whether it’s a newspaper, a book, a sheet off a photocopier or words on the TV screen, is two-dimensional. It’s black and white but it lies flat on the paper. The shapes of the letters are the same, but what you see lacks the bite, the sense of impression, of type that’s been really printed. Letterpress printing remains the only way to gain the full impact of printing as it is meant to be seen, read and appreciated. Whether it is an edition of the Bible or Shakespeare, an invitation or a calling card, a poem or a piece of promotion, it has to make that impact. If it is to be understood as well as read, appreciated as well as seen, it has to be printed by letter press.
The process starts with lead type, each letter separate. This is produced by the Monotype process, of which I am probably the last commercial typesetter. It consists of a keyboard and a caster. The keyboard produces a perforated tape, which programmes the caster. One piece of type is cast at a time, and ejected into a channel to make ‘justified’, i.e., squared off, lines of individual types. The lines mount up in a long tray called a ‘galley’. When it is full, they are taken off and made up into pages by hand. That is when extra items like headings and page-numbers are added.
That is where the job ends, but for me it never ends. I go back to work I’ve already done, enjoying it when it’s come out well, sometimes wondering if I couldn’t have done it better. So when you, the customer, come back for more, you’ll find me ready to start work again, ready to repeat what’s been well done before or to create a new design for a completely new job.
The memorial is planned to be located at the National Memorial Arboretum, the UK’s year-round centre of Remembrance. The Arboretum is a place which helps people to reflect and to be inspired, and where they can celebrate lives lived and a place to commemorate lives lost in service. The Submariner Memorial will commemorate the sacrifice of all those who have died whilst in the submarine service, and be a place for their families to visit.
Since 1945, 450 submariners have died while serving. And in the years before, between, and during the two World Wars, some 5,000 men made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. But there is nowhere dedicated to honouring them, until now.
Further details can be obtained at: https://www.submarinermemorial.uk/about/
To raise some money for this appeal, I have printed a limited edition of fifty prints of the delightful and detailed drawing by the artist Rear Admiral John Lang, himself a submariner, showing an ‘Oberon’ and a ‘Swiftsure’ class submarine. To date, forty nine of the fifty prints have been sold, at a gain to the memorial fund of some £1000.
Below is a photograph of no fifty of the edition – still for sale at £25! – and all ready for posting off!
This print was the first job that I have done on my ‘Victoria’ press, only installed at ‘Periscope’ a month ago. The subject matter is very fitting for the name of my private press!
So on Wednesday 8th July a large ten ton lorry forced its way up my long drive from the road, navigating some overhanging trees on the way. And then disgorged a pallet with the Victoria parallel motion press onto the tarmac, all well packed and shrink wrapped by Chris Wakeling, the previous owner in Consett.
I had built a platform out side of the workshop door at workshop floor level. The plan was to lift the press with a fork lift truck and place the press onto this platform on steel rollers, and then push the press into position on these rollers.
Once we had managed the slinging, the lift all went well and soon we were rolling the press in through the doorway.
And then round the corner and into the final position. What a marvellous piece of engineering. Now I have to learn how to use the press and get it printing. With its parallel motion, packing the platen should be a lot easier than on my Arab.
Then after fixing the motor to the concrete floor with some expansion bolts, and connecting up the drive pulls with a new shorter belt; a flick of a switch and the press was up and running. A long, but rewarding day, only possible with the kind help of good friends. Now to ink the press up and learn how to print with it!!
Another verse from ‘The Laws of the Navy’ by Captain Ronald Hopwood, first published in the Army & Navy Gazette on 23rd July 1898. ‘Who knows when thou mayest be tested’ are rather judicious words that unfortunately apply to us all – in every walk of life. These cards are oversized one third A4 and have been printed on a heavy stiff white card with the an image of Britannia at the head, with some on a 100% cotton card with an image of a sailing ship at the head. Please get in touch if you would like me to send you a card. The words could well be good advice for grandchildren!
In two weeks time I will be installing a Victoria Parallel Platen Press in my workshop here in Inverness. The press, made in Germany in 1932, is a beautiful piece of machinery with a parallel motion that helps provide the same impression all over a ‘pull’. The press also has an excellent inking system, and is electrically driven. I feel extremely fortunate to have found such a sort-after press, that has been so well cared for- and loved – in its current location near Durham.
I have had to do a considerable re-arrangement of my workshop, but by getting rid of a few items there is now plenty of space to place the Victoria in line with my Arab Press. So the space is now waiting in excitement for the arrival of the Victoria. I will be sure to add plenty of pictures of the installation of this ton of machinery and its first commissioning in my ‘Periscope Press’. All so exciting…….! Below is a picture of a Victoria Platen that is similar to the one coming my way.
‘There is a tide in the affaires of men’ are well known words, but maybe not everyone will immediately know that they were spoken by Brutus in Act 4 of Julius Caesar. To me they state that when in life, a chance or opportunity shows itself, one must grab it. It is also said that at the approach of death, it is the things that one did not do, rather than those that one did, that come to the surface. So I have printed the words of Brutus, set in 24pt Verona, on 100% cotton paper. The type was cast by Stephenson Blake, as were the decorations, and I was lucky to obtain this type not long before the famous type founders in Sheffield closed. I remember clearing shelf of dusty unopened packets of type; in the knowledge that they would never be cast again.