THE TENTH ANNIVERSARY is a fitting time for a second episode in the rags-to-rags history of our private press. The first five years were described in Boxwooder No. 8, February 1970, but some of that history will be repeated here.
The Boxwood Press imperceptibly crystallized during 1965, but its official birthday is 22 February.
For Christmas 1964, my cousin, Irvin Reynolds, gave my children a Sigwalt printing press. It was a one-roller press with a chase smaller than 3×5. The outfit included a small font of 12-point Cheltenham Bold type, a few leads, a few pieces of furniture, and a small tube of ink.
As a boy I spent many hours daydreaming hopelessly over a catalog of printing presses. To my surprise, I found my dormant interest rekindled by the little press. I tried to recall the name of the presses I had coveted but could not. I looked in Popular Mechanics and there was apparently the same ad I remembered – Kelsey. I sent for a catalog.
I was not aware that amateur printing existed as a hobby. I had never heard of such a thing.
My natural reaction was to head for the library. There I found Ryder’s Printing for Pleasure and some textbooks on printing. About this time Lieberman’s Printing as a Hobby came to my attention and I read it over and over, especially marveling at the descriptions, in the back of the book, of hobby printers who owned power presses and a hundred or more cases of type.
My son and I built several “Liberty Presses” as described in that book. None of them worked very well, but they whetted our appetites for better presses.
In January 1965 we had moved to a housing development named Boxwood Village and without ever making a clear decision to do so, we had acquired a press name. So we had a press name, but no real press.
After several months, I bought a 9×13 hand press from Kelsey and began accumulating type and accessories.
During the next three years, Dave and I acquired some skill in printing by a trial and error procedure supplemented by textbooks. Dave, from 9 to 12 years old, was both short and lightweight. On large forms his method of operating the Kelsey press was to jump off the floor and ride the handle down.
In February 1968, in response to a classified ad, Dave and I examined a basement printing shop with the intention of buying type or other small items, but the owner was determined to sell it as a package, including an old (but new style) 10×15 Chandler and Price press. With my wife’s encouragement, I bought the shop and on 22 February had it moved into our basement thus fixing that date as the official anniversary of the Boxwood Press.
Dave and I spent about a year printing odds and ends on the C&P. Dave was by then doing some commercial work, but hobby printing was wearing thin for lack of anything or any reason to print. We had not become fully aware or interested in the possibilities of book printing though I had printed one small book on the Kelsey press.
Lieberman’s Printing as a Hobby had informed us there were local groups of hobby printers in several large cities, but his description of their functions did not make them appear very accessible or appealing to us. For some reason he never mentions the several existing nationwide amateur groups. We had never heard of such a group.
So at that time we had been printing for about four years and, of course, buying many of our supplies from Kelsey. Thus it happened that with Kelsey’s house organ, Printer’s Helper, we received the famous NAPA flier. Dave and I read Bill Murtland’s description of NAPA with complete amazement. It was as if someone had designed an organization precisely to fit our needs. I immediately wrote to Bill Murtland, who sent my name to Joe Bradburn, who sent me a sample bundle and an application blank. So I joined NAPA in May and Dave joined in June 1969.
After some confusion, I found out how to get a journal into the bundle, and we published our first Boxwooder in July 1969. We continued it as a joint publication for about three years. Then Dave started publishing his own journal the Offshoot. A dozen issues of the Offshoot were published at the Boxwood Press. Issue No. 13, August 1974, was published at Dave’s new press, the Homewood Press, in Baltimore. September 1974 saw the birth at the Boxwood Press of still another journal, the Rosewood Rambler, published by my wife Leah, who joined NAPA in July 1974. It is to be hoped that she does not follow her son’s example and move out and establish her own press.
After the first few Boxwooder’s were published, I began receiving cards and letters from many people I’d never heard of: Bob Williams, Marge Clelland, John Carroll, Harold Segal, Bill Boys, J. Ed Newman (I did know from the National Amateur that J. Ed was president of NAPA) and many more.
In Boxwooder No. 8, I wrote that our contact with hobby printers had been minimal, to say the least, we had never met one. Some time later we received an invitation from Bob Williams to the spring meeting of the Virginia Amateur Printers Association at Alan Wheeler’s with a note saying “You said you’d never met an amateur printer, here is your chance.” We did attend the meeting and we did, indeed, meet some amateur printers. And in a continuing run of VAPA meetings, APC meetings, NAPA conventions, one Columbine meeting, and just plain visiting, we have continued to meet many amateur printers as well as the many non-printing writers who make up the NAPA. I recently estimated that I have met about one-third of the members. Some of them are now such old friends that it seems impossible that six years ago I’d never heard of them.
As an example of the unbridled hospitality aj’ers may extend, consider our Denver experience. Last summer, the week before the convention, Leah and I were to attend a conference at Boulder, Colorado. I wrote to Ramon Meyer, whom I’d never met, asking if we could get together during this time with some of the Denver people and if I could see his Washington Hand Press during my visit. He responded immediately with an invitation to spend the weekend with Doris and him, and an invitation to the monthly meeting of the Columbines that weekend. I told my wife that they had to mean the invitation, it was so extravagantly beyond anyone’s possible conception of mere politeness.
During the weekend at the Meyer’s, we attended the Columbine meeting, spent a day in Ramon’s shop with Elaine Peck and Kenneth and Helen Monson. I printed a poster on Ramon’s beautifully restored Washington Hand Press, and we all talked incessantly about everything. We literately had a mini-convention in Denver before going on to San Diego. It was with great regret that we learned that Ramon had suffered a heart attack shortly after our visit. He’s such a doer that I’m sure it is difficult for him to restrain his activity as he must.
It may sound as if I’m wandering a bit from the history of the Boxwood Press but, in fact, the people who have come into our lives as a result of the press are an integral and most important part of the story.
But I suppose it is fitting and necessary to make some report on the accouterments of the Boxwood Press. There are two presses, the 10×15 Chandler and Price and the 9×13 Kelsey (at the moment Dave has it in Baltimore). There are approximately 130 cases of type, a proof press, a small (and poor) paper cutter, a mitering machine, and various other necessities. None of the type is the sought-after obsolete, antique, or foreign material. It is nearly all either ATF or Monotype.
The shop occupies about a 12×18 foot area in my basement plus paper storage everywhere. As amateur shops go, I would say it is an average good one. There are many better. It does not compare with Frank Cushing’s shop in Tustin. Locally, both Jim Walczak and Jack Oliver have better facilities and more type. It is, I believe, a well arranged and reasonably well organized shop. There have always been two people using the shop, first Dave and I, now Leah and I, and I believe this has forced a bit more organization than is found in most amateur shops.
The shop is strictly utilitarian. No attempt has been made at an antique printing shop ambiance a la Alan Wheeler, for example. (I view with horror his enthusiasm for treadling his 10×15 press.) I can appreciate such shops but that’s not the Boxwood Press.
It is difficult to forecast the future of one’s hobby and therefore the future of the Boxwood Press. At this time the press exists and is operated primarily to produce the Boxwooder. That certainly requires most of my spare time and all of my excess energy. In return, I derive a lot of pleasure and satisfaction from it. – JLW
IN LOOKING OVER Boxwooder No. 8 and several other early issues, I was reminded of an unfortunate situation of which I have been aware for some time. The sorry truth is that No. 8 is printed better than recent issues. Worse still, all early issues, except No. 1 which I over inked, are better printed than any recent issue.
Since I’m unwilling to admit that five years of experience has made me a poorer printer, I must look for a scapegoat. I am reasonably certain that the culprit is worn type, unevenly worn type.
Worn type prints bolder than new type, and it is very noticeable when worn and unworn letters are juxtaposed. For example: wwggggrrrrrllaannttoo. A page containing new and worn letters has an uneven, spotty look.
The variables associated with type wear are so numerous that it is hard to anticipate how much usage one can expect. Typographic by Michael Hutchins estimates Monotype metal should be good for 120,000 to 150,000 impressions if printed in one form in one press run. Hutchins says it will be much less for separate runs or if the type is used in separate forms.
Sometime around June 1969, I obtained 20 fonts of 12-point Deepdene from Acme of Chicago. By late 1972 most of the e’s were printing too dark. In February 1973 I replaced all the e’s with sorts from Mackenzie and Harris and ordered seven more lower case fonts of Deepdene so I would have enough to set 12 pages. Mackenzie and Harris fonts are of harder material than normal Monotype metal but their sorts are of Monotype metal. Mackenzie and Harris people told me that when I visited their shop, and I have verified it by weighing sort letters against font letters. The type, sorts and fonts, obtained from Mackenzie and Harris has been in use just under two years and has shown no signs of wear. The Acme type has been in use for five and one-half years and some letters are quite worn.
Each journal requires some picking of worn letters from the form. This is a tedious job, and it is an error producer since it is easy to misplace the replacement letters.
I have not found a satisfactory way for distinguishing worn type before printing it (after makeready, even). If a letter prints too dark, examination under a magnifying glass will reveal the worn, rounded surfaces that cause the bold look, but, on the other hand, type that under a glass looks quite worn may print satisfactorily.
There is no doubt that foundry type metal will outlast Monotype metal, but ATF type will also wear out. I have some 10-point Century, purchased new, that now has some worn letters. I do not know whether Mackenzie and Harris’s is as hard and long wearing as ATF’s. In Deepdene, of course, there is no ATF type, so the Mackenzie and Harris type is the best one can get.
I don’t know any reasonable solution to differential type wear short of owning a Monotype. One simply cannot dump and replace 27 fonts of type at the first appearance of a few worn letters.
Hand set in Deepdene. Display type is Gravure. Paper is an unknown 50-lb. offset. Cover is light index stock. Ink is Van Son 40904. Published by Jake Warner and 450 copies printed by him on a 10×15 C&P press.
The Boxwood Press
Greenbelt, Maryland 20770