Front Cover


“Subtraction is that awful feeling that you know less today than you did yesterday.” – Peppermint Patty

HAVE YOU become so skillful at feeding a printing press that you find it boring and monotonous? Or do you go so quickly through the printing of your monthly journal that you have nothing left to amuse you? Do you want to recover the feeling of being a novice at printing? There is a solution to your problems – print on dampened paper.

As everybody knows, all the old-time printers, from Gutenberg on, printed on dampened paper. It was not a matter of choice; in order to obtain a good impression with the materials available to them, it was necessary.

I have always had a curiosity about the mechanics and the results of printing on dampened paper and have now and then dampened a sheet or two to see what would happen but never really obtained much feeling for the process from such an approach.

Some time ago I obtained a quantity of Sulgrave Text paper and have printed a few journals on it. It is laid paper with the pattern quite obvious on the surface. I have found it impossible to print decently on, thus I decided it would be a good candidate for the dampened-paper experiment. The surface of the paper is not permanently altered by dampening as with some papers. Bill Boys, I recall, tried printing on dampened Warren’s Olde Style and found that a permanently changed surface resulted.

Page 1

I reckoned that the only way to really get the feel of the process would be to print a journal using the method so that’s what I undertook for Boxwooder No. 113, December 1978. You can judge the output yourself by examining that issue. You may however have to iron it before you can read it. Here I propose to tell you all you can stand to know about the input.

To dampen the paper I took a stack of 600 sheets cut to Boxwooder size and passed a wet sponge across each sheet. I then enclosed the damp stack in a small plastic bag until I was ready to print. It is necessary to let the paper remain some hours (overnight) in the bag so that it becomes more uniformly dampened. It turns out that the exact amount of dampening does not seem to be at all critical. Although any water standing on the surface of the paper will cause inking problems, whether a sheet is slightly damp or very damp does not seem to matter.

Right away in dampening the paper I realized I had materially increased the input effort in the printing of a journal as it required about an hour and a half to dampen each stack of 600 sheets. I was a bit uncertain about the drying of ink on damp paper so I permitted each sheet to dry after printing the first side so it had to be dampened again before printing the other side. I still don’t know if this was necessary. Two sides times three sheets and you’ve added a neat nine hours to your printing time before you have properly started.

Makeready turned out to be much easier with dampened paper so I saved a little time in that process. When I started the motor on the press and fed the first sheet, I found the big disadvantage. The damp sheet sticks to the type form, and the limpness of the paper makes the press grippers almost useless, and the sheet is immediately wrapped around one of the press rollers from which it has to be laboriously unpeeled. I tried a number of things – getting both grippers on the paper, adding assorted fingers to the grippers, and everything I could think of, but almost every sheet had to be peeled off the rollers.

Finally I tied a string from gripper to gripper and then a string from the middle of that one to the gripper bar so that a string went across the top of the sheet and also down the gutter between the two pages. This worked fairly well, but now and then a sheet stuck to the type and had to be peeled off. Not only is this disconcerting, but one must stop and wash his hands each time as it is impossible to peel a sheet off a roller without ending up with black hands.

Page 2 and 3

This was not the only problem. Feeding damp paper to a press is more difficult than you might think. You can’t pick up the paper properly, you can’t get it into the gage pins squarely, and you can’t slide it across the tympan paper so it is likely to be printed crookedly. For much of the first run I used both hands to fee the press and had to throw off about 99% of the time between sheets. I think I spent the better part of one day printing the first side of the first sheet (pages 6 and 7) of the journal. As my skill increased slightly, the tympan paper became damp and puffed up here and there to keep the feeding difficult throughout.

My normal journal run is about 530 copies, and I do not print any extras to allow for waste since I normally spoil only one or two in a press run. With dampened paper, it was necessary to run some 50 extra copies to compensate for the crooked copies that slipped by undetected or were on the back of a previously printed sheet. I’m sure some of these cockeyed copies got into the finished journal and into the bundle as my mistakes normally do.

By the time I had done the second side of three sheets, I did gain a little skill in handling the paper so I suppose one would eventually learn to finish a press run in a reasonable time. I think my best time was four hours for 600 impressions. (On dry paper this is a 45-minute job.)

Inking becomes another unknown with dampened paper. Much less ink is required for printing on it, but whatever skill I have acquired in estimating the ink needs of dry paper did not seem to carry over very well. I assume that one would in time learn to judge this.

My usual method of folding a journal is to collate the two, three, or four sheets and fold them together, but I found that once the paper had been dampened, it was impossible to jog it so that the edges were anywhere near together for folding. I had to fold each sheet separately and this required at least twice as long as usual. At best, folding is not one of my favorite activities, and I surely do not need it made more difficult and more time consuming.

Even the saddle stitching turned out to be more difficult because the journal would not automatically open up to the middle as it does when the sheets are folded together. Thus every aspect of the printing job took more time and more effort than printing on dry paper.

Page 4 and 5

What about the output? If all this effort had resulted in a beautifully printed journal, it surely would have been well worth while. Unfortunately that didn’t happen. What dampening does is greatly improve the impression. If one had new type it might be worth the effort, but if one had differentially worn type, the better impression simply magnifies the problem. I would have known that if I had thought about it before doing it.

The best paper for differentially worn type is a smooth surface, even slick surface, dense paper that does not yield much to impression. Hammermill Ledger is very good, a paper called Exact Matte is good, and Productolith Offset Enamel, Sirocco Embossed Finish, is the best I’ve ever tried. Damp paper is nearly the antithesis of these types of papers.

Dampened paper would be helpful if one were trying to print bold type or any form with a lot of solid areas. Dampening softens the surface enough that even paper with a prominent surface pattern can be printed in a solid color.

Mysteriously, as often seems to happen to me, there were two weights of Sulgrave Text in this batch. It turned out that the thinner paper was better for damp-paper printing. The thicker paper, when damp, allowed the type to sink in too far; this makes the differential wear even more obvious.

Craftsmen are like artists; their mistakes go into their wastebaskets. The rest of us put them in the bundle.


At the last moment I decided to demonstrate the results of printing on dampened paper by using Sulgrave Text for this journal and printing the inside sheet (pages 3, 4, 5, & 6) on dampened paper and the other sheet on dry paper so that you can make a direct comparison of the results.

Page 6 and 7

Ain’t It Awful Department

FALSELY accused by Ken Kaplan of increasing irascibility and “showing signs of becoming impossible,” now and then I find it necessary to vent my frustration by mild protests.

Dear Secretary Califano:

I am writing to you about the column in the Washington Post in which George F. Will claims that HEW is trying to force high schools in Iowa to quit playing girls’ basketball on the grounds that in this game three of the six girls, the guards, are not allowed to shoot and therefore are discriminated against later obtaining college scholarships.

Please tell me that George F. Will has misinterpreted your actions. In spite of his obvious intelligence, I have known Mr. Will to be remarkably obtuse at times and this must be one of them. Please tell me that the whole business was a joke in HEW that percolated to the top with a great deal of amusement and served a worthwhile function in relieving some of the tensions of people concerned with real problems.

If by any horrible mischance it is not a joke, I suggest you lie about it. I would much rather have a liar for a Secretary than a man who considers girls’ basketball a serious national problem. If I were you I would claim that it was a joke, then I would find out which administrators in my system took it seriously, and I would demand a sanity hearing for these. I know you can’t fire anyone, but you could easily get them committed on such evidence.

In an agency I once worked for we had a circular stamp that said “B.S.” in large red letters. It found frequent use on things no where near as crazy as this one. I would recommend that you get such a stamp and a few sane people to apply it. It will work wonders.

I’m sure you know that quarterbacks sometimes make as much money as the rest of the team put together and that pitchers are more highly sought after than other baseball players. If Mr. Will were right, then HEW would also insist that all high-school players be quarterbacks and pitchers. They could rotate positions after each play.

Tell me it isn’t true. Girls’ basketball, for God’s sakes!


* * * *

Editor, The Washington Post
Dear Sir:

The proposal by the Washington Gas Light Company that they be allowed to assess fines against people who are using heat pumps, wood stoves, or simply keeping their houses cool and not using enough gas exhibits such chutzpah that I’m afraid it will be adopted immediately.

Consumers have long since learned that if they conserve any utility company product, electricity, gas, or water that the result is a higher rate so that the cost to the consumer goes up, but the idea that he could be directly fined for not using enough of a company’s product is a new one.

Suppose the gas company is given this power. Then what if the electric company claims I’m using gas instead of electricity to heat with, and therefore they can fine me. If I use a wood stove, perhaps I can pay three heating bills: gas, electricity, and wood.

Suppose Ma Bell finds that I’m writing too many letters instead of calling long distance. Won’t she then want to fine me, too? If Exxon finds out that I do some of my errands on a bike, won’t that company want to fine me for not using more gasoline? Once the principle of paying for non-use is established, the ramifications are endless.

Also there are all those all-electric homes. They’re certainly not doing their share for the gas company; how about letting the gas company fine them?

Yours truly,

Page 8


Overly-dampened paper caused may sheets to permanently stick together and much difficulty in printing the too-damp paper – 30 sheets stuck to the rollers on the first press run. Then, perversely, I seem to have printed better than usual on the dry paper. It’s awfully hard to learn anything around here.

Hand set in Deepdene and Goudy Text. Paper is Sulgrave Text Laid. Edited, published, and 530 copies printed by Jake Warner on a 10×15 C&P at the Boxwood Press, Greenbelt, Maryland 20770.

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