Every day we go into my shop and work like maniacs. Sometimes we forget how beautiful it is in here. This is where a job begins, after the idea pops into the typographer’s head, that is. This is called a composing stick. You put each letter into it with the type going from left to right, upside down, and the nicks are up. After a day or two of doing this, you get to reading upside down almost as fast as the regular way.
These are ornaments, aka dingbats. This is where clipart came from. These pieces are made from lead, tin and antimony. Some are copper mounted on wood bases to bring them up to “type high.” They are so beautiful it makes you gasp.
This is one of my ornament cases. It is very fabulous because the cases (drawers) are at an angle. That is so that when the dingbats are placed in the case, they won’t just randomly roll around getting all banged up. They all stand up against the downhill side in their little compartments. The colored stripes at the bottom of the photo is a stack of colored papers we use for our origami packaged Ladies Who Lunch cards.
This is a case of spacing material. In a letterpress shop there are one billion little things to keep track of, and it’s a place for everything and everything in its place. These pieces of variously thin and thick lengths of lead are used for spacing between lines of type. That is why it’s called “leading,” even in modern computer typography. The lines of type are separated by leading. A 6 point thick piece of leading is called a slug. A 2 point thick piece of leading is called a lead.
This is a close-up of myRouse Slug Cutter. You use this machine to cut lengths of leading material into the sizes you need for your job. It has a handle and a bed where you lay the lead strips. There is a measuring device right on the bed and you just clamp down on the handle and snap the lead very accurately wherever you want it. Everything should be this simple. It’s about a million years old and it still works elegantly.
This is my beautiful old 1924 C&P. It came from the printshop they used to have in the Georgia Pacific mill here in town. They used to do all their own printing there. I bought it from an old printer who learned to print on it there in 1932. When I moved it to my shop, I remember driving behind the flatbed trailer it was strapped to. It looked so jaunty riding down the highway in the sunny day. Probably it’s second or third time out on the road. Maybe someone would like to buy this from me one day. I love it so much but I hardly use it anymore and it still works like a little angel.
Here’s how a job looks when it’s gone through the Heidelberg Windmill and is on the delivery board. There is something ineffably satisfying about doing a job and having it come out so gorgeously and making people so happy who get to use the papers. This is magical work I get to do every day. Alchemical, emotional, heart-filling, artful.
You should come by and see the shop sometime. It is very charming. I am selling my type, though. If you know any letterpress printers who are still setting type by hand, it is very wonderful stuff I have here and I want it to go to someone who will love and respect if and not turn it into fishermen’s sinkers. I have a lot of it too. I have been collecting it for over 25 years. I am not using it at all anymore and it deserves a new home. The ornaments — I am thinking about selling those too. I want one million dollars for all of it but am willing to dicker.