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Re: [PPLetterpress] Packing: Hard vs. Soft

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  • Ed Inman
    One thing I have done from time to time using soft packing is to create heavy non-inked impressions on invitations--typically Art Nouveau style borders on
    Message 1 of 31 , Nov 4 10:11 AM
      One thing I have done from time to time using soft packing is to create
      heavy non-inked impressions on invitations--typically Art Nouveau style
      borders on heavy textured card stock such as Strathmore Pastelle. The effect
      can be quite interesting and many customers like it very much.

      But I suppose that's going to get me a one-way ticket into printers' hell
      too, hehe.

    • typetom@aol.com
      In a message dated 11/8/2003 bieler@worldnet.att.net writes:
      Message 31 of 31 , Nov 9 11:48 AM
        In a message dated 11/8/2003 bieler@... writes:
        << the word "pleasure" sneaks into printing history vocabulary, a bit after
        WWII on the private press/hobby press Anglo-American side. I just have to bet
        that the word "fun" sneaks in somewhere in the late seventies to early
        eighties. What do you think? I am actually looking for a historical pinning here. >>

        Hi Gerald,
        This is an interesting question though I'm not sure it should govern how we
        best approach letterpress today, especially for those just beginning to print.
        Wish I had time today to do further digging on the issue. Several things pop
        into mind, however, that suggest a broader historical span than you mention.

        First, the private press movement really goes back at least to the mid 18th
        century (I'm thinking Horace Walpole, Strawberry Hill Press). Surely you are
        right that most letterpress was an industry, a work-a-day job, and talk of fun
        or pleasure would not have been the normal vocabulary. But there were printers
        and publishers and inventors whose interests involved personal curiosity and
        aesthetic pleasures that were not job-related. I'd suggest Baskerville's
        intensely crafted editions and type designs fit into this picture as well, late 18th
        century. Maybe his was a personal aesthetic commitment, but surely it
        involved a kind of pleasure that stood outside the normal work vocabulary of the day.

        Other hobby printing activities also pre-date your reference. The parlour
        press was described and sold, early to mid-19th century. The National Amateur
        Press Association (still going today) was founded in Philadelphia in 1876. The
        Kelsey press dates also from the mid-1870s. I'll have to dig through the
        collection of amateur journals I got from Elaine Peck (who joined NAPA in 1936,
        sponsored by the great hobby printer Ralph Babcock who just passed away this
        month). While in those days, letterpress was not the special form of printing it
        seems today, I'm pretty confident that production of the numerous wonderful
        small journals involved exactly the kind of personal pleasure and fun we're
        talking about.

        I have in mind, also, an account I heard from Jack Bond (still in NAPA -- a
        lifetime of printing and hobby publishing pleasures) about the first convention
        he attended in the late 1930s at age 18 or 19. He had just gotten his first
        press and was astounded to find that there were others also active in the
        hobby. He got on a train and went by himself at that age all the way to Boston to
        be there. I tried when I heard this story to think what activity today involves
        young people so directly and completely -- only parallel I could find was the
        way kids gather around a Gameboy or trade secrets about hidden passages
        online. For the pure fun of it, and the social comaraderie of the play. Hobby
        printers even managed to hand-print and distribute journals during the war in the
        40s. I'm certain the same sense of pleasure and fun with type and amateur
        journalism goes back to the founding of the NAPA in the 1870s. I'll have to dig in
        the collection to see what language they used to describe the activity.

        Of course, you are right that the industry looked down on the amateurs, then
        as perhaps now -- some press manufacturers and type foundries had to
        back-pedal sales offerings to hobby printers, even disavowing any such marketing
        intentions. Kelsey was an exception; Golding was rather caught in the middle.

        On the other hand, we might consider the numerous printing industry specimen
        books for indications of how much fun printing involved throughout the 19th
        century. Jokes and double entendres and general playfullness fill the specimen
        pages (echoing perhaps the much earlier verbal play among printers' -- friar,
        chappel, widow, devil, the wayzgoose, even Moxon's rules condemning the game of
        quadrats while describing exactly how it was played, etc).

        I also suggest that the attitudes of the past should not govern how we
        approach things today. I'm thinking how Caslon fired an employee when he had figured
        out how to cut punches -- typecasting was a closed system, even up to the
        final auction of ATF in the mid-1990s. Even to become a printer, you had to enter
        through a long apprentice program, seven years if I recall. The secrets were
        closely held.

        Today I am thankful that Theo Rehak broke the rules and preserved so much
        crucial information about typecasting that would have been lost with ATF. I am so
        appreciative that Rich Hopkins organized a camaraderie of hobby typecasters,
        that so much of this information would be shared openly -- driven by the
        pleasures of typecasting, rather than by strict obsolete industry traditions of the
        past. Yes, the rigor and discipline and craft of the past is crucial to study
        and understand, but the situation today surely requires a different
        vocabulary and a different kind of involvement. I think we might pay tribute to such a
        wild hobby printer as Ralph Babcock, who loved playing with type so much that
        he imported unique European script fonts and encouraged other ventures such as
        Steve Watts' kittypot castings of rare 19th century types long buried in the
        ATF vaults. (Charles Broad's Pheonix Typefounders is another such example).

        I'd also note that my introduction to photopolymer plates came through the
        hobby printing experiments of Earl L'Abbe (American Amateur Press Association,
        Good Fortune Press) and Boulder, Colorado hobby printer Earl Noe (as well being
        inspired by the poetry broadsides and artistic printing and more academic
        investigations of Jim Trissel). It is partly by the pleasures and fun of amateur
        efforts that we have these things available today. Have a Nice Day may be a
        reductionist banality, but I stand by much we learned in the 1960s and I'd say
        that a tribute to the pleasures of printing is important for the future, no
        matter how it was spoken of in the past.
        Grist for the mill, Tom

        Tom Parson
        Now It's Up To You Publications
        157 S. Logan, Denver CO 80209
        (303) 777-8951
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