On to Antiquity!
by Sheldon P. Wesson
Extemporaneous remarks recorded at 1966 NAPA convention.
IT IS INEVITABLE that, in a significant fraction of a century in the life of an association such as this, printers will arise at the banquet and expound on the glories of the previous quarter of a century… and then say how glorious the next century or quarter century will be if we recruit more, set more, print more and do more and so on. The 90th anniversary is not quite such a nice round number as the 100th, but I will jump the gun a little bit, by 10 years, and look ahead and try to make a few predictions in the best tradition of Drew Pearson – and also in the best tradition of Socrates, in that I will do this by asking three very vague questions.
The first of these is: What will happen to printing in general, the process?
Now, I am not a printing technician, and my experience has been somewhat limited. I have had only limited experience with letterpress, and a few rather discouraging encounters with an A. B. Dick duplicator. But I have read something about it… and I would say that within the foreseeable future contact of inked metal with paper will disappear. We see this nowadays in the form of the Xerox copier and so on; and some high school journals I know are published without the use of type at any stage.
This has not yet been carried over to newspapers on a large scale; for I think that Bert Powers [president of New York Local 6 of the International Typographical Union] has finally allowed the Times to dump their ceramic type, and we all know that [attitude] will be a hindrance to mechanization in the future. But Bert Powers and other inhibiting factors notwithstanding, automation and, more important, the further development of printing techniques, are inevitable.
I do not know how this will work; I cannot predict that. I can imagine some sort of ionized ink going through an activated charcoal filter, high-porosity paper – or something like that. But the point is that contact of paper with metal type at any stage of the printing process will be entirely eliminated.
Now, this leads to the second question: What will happen to the amateur printer?
I do not confine that to any association or to any type of amateur printer; because we all know that there are many amateur printers who do not belong to any association as such. They are just there. I don’t know what their activities are, but there are printers and cellar printshops throughout the country. I think the immediate effect of the technical developments I just mentioned will be that such supplies as are necessary to continue the hobby will become very rare – and very expensive – especially newer equipment.
I would compare this to the popular hobby of restoring antique cars, which is carried on to the extent that a millionaire is able to restore and set up a library, as it were, of antique cars. But the average person cannot afford that hobby.
I think that the same thing will happen to printing. Of course, as we all know, presses last a long time; they never die, but the impressions begin to fade away after a time. But as long as there is an antique press there will be a printer to print with it.
This leads to the next question: What will happen to an association such as ours? Inevitably we run into the question of Lieberman Lost or Lieberman Gained. Now to explain more clearly.
Lieberman Gained is assuming that [J. Ben] Lieberman will achieve his goal of a million printers. I am not going to go any further than this. I cannot imagine what this hobby would be like. I can only see some dim nightmare of a 30-story building or 100-story building with computerized mailing lists, computerized speeches and computerized processes for finding official editors for the various organs. Outside of this, I do not care to go into that aspect.
What will happen if he does not make printing a “popular folk art,” which also is hand composition?
I think what will happen is that the association as we know it will cease to exist within a foreseeable period. We know that the criteria for today’s teen-agers’ activities are generally speed, ease and show. I don’t think that amateur journalism involves any of these first two conditions. The last, show, yes – to a mind that is capable of comprehending what printers put into their publications.
I do not see that “young blood” will be the future of the association. Printing will be, as I say, like restoring antique cars or restoring antique furniture. It will be something – an activity – relegated to the few who can afford it and the few that are interested in it.
FAMILY PRINTING activity spreads. Like weeds. Shel bought Frank Rogers’ old 8×12 Damon & Peets. It was disassembled, flung into the station-wagon along with the accouterments of a printery, skimmed off the family shop, and reassembled at his house, near RPI in Troy. Once the fragments were dragged into the cellar the press was running in 25 minutes! Shel’s principal production plan is a book, using Tim Thrift’s famous 12-point Janson. Here he shares
‘A BEGINNING HAPPINESS’
Dear folks: I have set up the shop and have adjusted the impression screws on the press – at the cost of 25 picas of smashed rule. The press is a beauty. I will not know the whole story until I print two full pages, but the regularity of the punch is a beginning happiness. The action is smooth and quiet and requires no effort treadling at a decent speed. The bearings lose oil very quickly.
I will have to get a small air conditioner for the shop; the rollers will carry no ink in this humidity, and are trying to tear themselves up on the plate. I put them in a sealed tool box with a desiccant on the bottom, which dries them out overnight. Today I put them on the press and they were swollen to capacity in one hour.
Printing under boy-printer-just-starting-out-plus conditions is a challenge – I am used to having three varieties of everything I need (I am accustomed to a Baldwin) – but improvising is half the fun, I guess. Double-rolling without a throwoff is definite trubs, and razoring rule is too bloody a business: if you find a small lead cutter for $2 max, please send it up.
I am pleased with this stationery, my first effort on the yet-un-named Press. The design has a lot of potential, as they say: Jacno, Largo, Pascal or some heavier face would have been better than the Janson, which looks a trifle effete in this situation. One does, however, with what one has.
The colors, mixed under fluorescent light from Sullmanco Tint White, Deep Green Job and Semi-Solid Peacock Blue, are smashing. I had scrubbed two inches of Flakeoff Black from the inkplate with turpentine and steel wool, and the rollers were already clean. The light tints stayed light, which was gratifying. I will probably doodle around with some Eric Webb style creations, in collaboration with ace linoleum carver J. Feigenson.
ILLUSTRATION on the cover is Bill Caxton, as caricatured in a notable series of ads by Mackenzie & Harris c. 1946. Gutenberg, with his highly movable type, is on page 13. The Brownies on pages 20-21 are the originals, courtesy Ward Schori, via Bernard Schumacher’s Cutbank. Titles are in Corvinus Bold and text is Garamond. Helen disapproves of the blue on pages 3 and 9.
On to Creativity
by Sheldon C. Wesson
AFTER 28 YEARS of dabbling with type and the accoutrements of the letterpress art, I have developed a growing respect for typophiles, typographers and type designers. My own printing passion has been devoted to the reproduction of text in as attractive a manner as the physical resources at hand, and the mental gymnastics of my designing helpmeet, could provide.
I have always regarded with some awe the typophiles who carry indexed specimen books between their ears and who load their cellars with the leaden fruits of forgotten eras. To be truthful, that awe is often modified by some impatience with those who only collect types and study types, but who seldom put same to the test of ink and to the face of paper.
But those I have managed to make allowances for – in the happy knowledge that we are all kooks in our own ways. I am a kook in my own way; for one of the noted private printers of the Metropolitan East asked me, at our first face-to-face, what sort of devilish devotion made me set so many thousand ems of 10-point.
Typographers are yet something else. Consider the prospect of being handed a manuscript (or any piece of copy) and being told to design its ultimate format: paper, layout, type faces, spacing, decoration and color. The responsibility is staggering. I have designed one book, Truman Spencer’s History of Amateur Journalism, and prepared it for the press. That was a pedestrian effort, whose forms and format were frankly modeled after some standard books on the shelf. Furthermore, its type styles were dictated by the limited range available at a Japanese commercial printery.
Similarly, I consider it a feat of only minor proportions to be faced with a limited selection of types and decorative material and to produce a Siamese Standpipe. Of course, that is the greatest fun of amateur printing – to strive to do something different, something creative, with the limited resources of the amateur shop. Hence, some of our best amateur printers are those who combine limited resources with infinite ingenuity. All credit is due them who produce much with little. But remember: the options are limited.
In contrast to all of our work, look at the task of the book designer, or the creator of printed ephemera, who starts from scratch and builds distinctive works in competition with the great universe of similar creators whose tools and instruments of design are limitless – whose options are limitless – and so must employ the most refined of taste and educated selectivity.
Go one step further and you come to the type designer. His, I assert, is genius which ranks close to the Occult Arts. Yes, after 28 years of working with type and reading about type, I know of the mechanics of type manufacture. But tell me: Why do I look at one Roman face, or one Grotesque, and find it “pleasing” or “appealing,” to use the vaguest adjectives? Why do I look at its cousin on another page, a face varying only slightly, and find it displeasing, or pinched, or vaguely irritating to the eye and mind?
Who, then, are these Occult Geniuses who devise thicknesses of stroke, curves of serif, contrasts of line which, when compounded and reduced to shapes one ninth of an inch high, react so clearly on my emotions?
Is not the designing of type the most disciplined of the arts, demanding as it does harmony to the uttermost in every stroke of perhaps 80 characters in a font?
Zapf and Today
Briefest of contact with designer Hermann Zapf, honored guest of the New York Area Chappels at their joint meeting in May, did not per se answer my questions about type designers. But his prepared talk, and some of the answers he gave to my questions, did offer some insight into the subjective character (as opposed to the mere visible characteristics) of type. And these are worth sharing.
Type design, Herr Zapf said, must be a product of its time. Type designs which express the feeling of our technological era must be used to convey the words of our era. Type forms, for instance, must be adapted to the needs of electronic reading machines.
(The gross forms of numerals designed to the work of the check-reader are, I would hope, only the crudest manifestation of Herr Zapf’s principle.)
The standard text faces, he said, are over-used and are too broadly used. When he made a slurring remark about my beloved Garamond, I confronted him afterward for an explanation. Would you, he challenged, set the annual report of General Dynamics Corp., manufacturers of sophisticated electronics and aeronautical equipment, in Garamond?
I stammered that I would – depending on the ornaments and illustrations and other material to accompany – that I didn’t feel that modern technical words would look wrong in an old-style face. Garamond, I thought, was rather “neutral,” and so capable of blending well with many display faces and allowing those display faces to shine on their own with little interference. Zapf granted that point, but he insisted on his original principle of “appropriateness to the subject,” and we had to stop there for want of time.
I’d be pleased to see expressions on this subject from others, in print.
Traditionally, styles of type have lagged somewhat behind the styles of architecture, furniture design and the fine arts which are representative of an era. Has the increased mechanization of recent periods tended to speed up the design of “contemporary types,” I asked Mr. Zapf. “Has the durability of type in metal caused style changes to be slower than (for instance) in the case of designs on less durable fabrics?” Yes, Mr. Zapf opined; the more rapid processes of transfer type and photo-type for use in commercial composition make it easier to adopt type changes, Make it economical, I say. By a coincidence, about two weeks after that meeting I came across some evidence of just the trend Mr. Zapf had stressed, in the Official Gazette of the Patent Office. Patent No. 211,293 has been granted to Oliver K. Devin for a font of sans-serif caps and figures which reflect strongly the influence of the exaggerated shapes of electronic-reading numerals.
Has Mr. Zapf really pointed to the shape of things – or, at least, the shape of letters – to come?
Sex Life of Sorts
I tossed at Mr. Zapf one of my favorite questions: Do type faces have gender – male, female, neuter?
Absolutely, he replied, apparently a bit amused that I should even ask so naive a queStion. Certain scripts are clearly “feminine,” while most sans serifs and the square serifs are clearly “masculine,” we agreed.
I reported to him a similar discussion with type designer Emil Klumpp, who is known personally to many hobby printers in the eastern half of the country. Emil maintains that a good typographer can design an appropriate composition for any purpose – yes, even a perfume bottle label with Karnak – by employing a suitable combination of ornaments and colors.
Zapf disagrees: in such a case, the designer is using color and ornament to create a feminine design, essentially disguising the masculinity of the type.
Klumpp’s position must be interpreted as an assertion that all type is neuter and can be manipulated to assume the appearances of either male or female as the designer of the printed piece wishes. The conflict may be more apparent than actual. It may represent a semantic distinction between the visual effects of type and typography.
Anyone care to contribute some thoughts to this discussion in print?
NAPA Laureate a Travesty
by Sheldon C. Wesson
THE AWARD of this year’s NAPA Printing Laureate to Ralph Babcock’s Scarlet Cockerel is a travesty on the hobby. It shows that our judges are incompetent, our standards (if any!) are vague and our procedures are ridiculous.
All of the Cockerels published recently have either been printed by professional pressmen in the offset shop where Ralph is employed, or printed by others.
I have suggested to Ralph that he decline the award. He has sidestepped the issue by pointing out that he didn’t enter his paper, and so isn’t responsible. The entry was made by a well-intentioned but ill-advised officer who was only interested in providing enough entries to create the fiction of a “contest.”
I call upon Ralph to decline the Laureate publicly. If he continues to refuse, I will petition the Executive Judges to withdraw the award.
by Emil J. Klumpp
A 1966 letter, reply to queries from Lillian Worley and Helen
WHY WAS THE TYPE face named Lilith? Well, I can’t be sure, but I can tell you who Lilith ith – or wath – and let you draw your own conclusions.
Legend or mythology tells us that Lilith was Adam’s first wife – she preceded Eve – and Lilith fled upon Eve’s arrival. (I wonder why she did that?)
Lilith wath (or ith) no ordinary mortal, but a jinn (or djinn) – a magic person. I think our usual word “genie” is what a jinn is. You know, like “Jeannie” on television, who lives in a bottle and is pretty magical.
Some accounts make Lilith out to be pretty monstrous and untrustworthy and horrible and like that. Other accounts indicate that she was OK, a sprightly fun gal – but tricky. Ancient Semitic mythology has her as an evil roaming night demon who beat up little kids. In Goethe’s Faust she comes on as a witch in a night scene. (Remember, now – “witch” and “demon” are not necessarily bad or horrible.)
The type face Lilith was designed by Lucian Bernhard, an educated German who would know about such things. Many other Germans would know about her, at least through Goethe. I would think it probable that modern Germans know more about her than the little I’ve told you. Possibly, too, there are some nice and/or zippy bits about her in modern German understanding.
Trees and forests are big in Germans’ minds, and the motif of the Lilith design is tree- or plant-like in character. I conjecture that Lilith is also a lovely forest sprite who dances about seductively from behind one tree to another on moonlit nights. Anyhow, that’s how I’m going to think about her. And whatever she is, she’s a girl; that’s good enough reason for any red-blooded type designer to choose her name for a face.
Anyhow, that’s my conjecture.
But just to check further, I phoned Lucian Bernhard and asked him how the name “Lilith” came to be chosen. Alas, he has forgotten! He tells me that he designed the face for the Flinsch Type Foundry over 50 years ago. He is surprised to see the face in use these days. (The Flinsch Foundry was acquired by Bauer some years ago.)
Frau Harand [of Bauer] gives me this information: The owner of the Bauer Type Foundry, at the time of the Flinsch acquisition, was Herr Georg Hartmann. He was a devotee of Faust (and doubtless appreciative of Goethe). Frau Harand is certain that Herr Hartmann renamed the face, from what it was then called, to Lilith.
Until somebody gives me a better explanation, I am going to stand by my conjecture! It makes a pretty plausible story, doesn’t it!
The subject of names for type faces is rather interesting. I know some offhand: like the why of Lydian, Hobo, Whitehall, Murray Hill, Brody, Century Nova, Whedon’s Gothic, Fairfield and others.
Maybe next year at APA we can discuss type names?
by John Carroll (excerpt from a letter)
WHAT THE DICKENS is with amateurs anyway, that they can never be convinced that rollers are expendable, and should be recast as soon as they start to give the slightest trouble?
I bought a 6×9 Victor press a while back from a guy who said he just couldn’t do good printing on it. The rollers looked like they were 15 years old – all dried out and cracked – but I could not convince him that all he needed was a new set of rollers. I finally bought the press from him, cast a new set of rollers, and promptly sold the press again at a great profit, just because it had new rollers on it… which cost me just $2.50 each. Big deal.
I had one guy who belonged to a group in New York. He showed me some awful looking printing and asked me what was the matter. I said he needed new rollers. I found later that he went to every member of the group, asking what was wrong with his printing, and each one told him the same thing. He didn’t buy new rollers. He thought we were holding out the “real secret” from him.
Or maybe – this is the reason I gave up ajay – he didn’t want criticism or advice, he wanted praise. He wanted to be told that his printing was very good indeed and he should be proud of it. This is called “encouragement,” but I don’t see how anyone ever learns things that way.
The Pink Ink Caper
Or: The Mysterious Disappearing Ink
HEADINGS for Helen’s July Fantasia and various parts of Standpipe 50 were printed in a shocking pink obtained by mixing IPI Speed King Cerise and MPI Heavy Cover White. The Fantasia heading came out bright and bold – and 48 hours after drying had faded to a pale gray, and is now invisible! The SS pink type and cuts have slowly melted to a shadow of the original tone. Pink ink never dries – it just fades away.
Can anyone solve this mystery?
The Brownies Printing
by Palmer Cox
D. Appleton-Century Co., New York, 1938. Copyright 1926
But to a printing-house near by
To find our way and then apply
Our hands to type and presses great,
A printed sheet to circulate.
Said one: “How few e’er pause to think
What power lies in a drop of ink.
A scratch, a dot, an airy notion,
Can start a thousand wheels in motion,
And bring employment to the hand
Of many a workman through the land!
What legions eat their daily bread
Through thoughts from some poor creature’s head,
Who seems most happy when his gaze
Is into fancy’s wondrous maze.”
Some sat in editorial chairs
And leaders wrote of home affairs,
Some drove a sharp combative pen,
And called to arms all fighting men;
Denounced those kissing-angel kings
Who carry knives beneath their wings,
Urged friends to trust their hugs no more;
For war was at their very door.
While at the linotypes they stood
And set the lines as best they could,
The paper-rolls with flash and gleam
Ran through the presses like a stream.
Some overlooked the work in hand,
Some saw supply wait on demand;
More ran like newsboys, ready there
To scatter pages everywhere.
And never was a task assigned
To creatures of more willing mind.
Some Brownies entered in the door
With swallow-tails they proudly wore;
But hungry presses soon got hold
Of any loosely hanging fold.
The garment quickly disappeared;
Between revolving plates it steered;
And when the vesture next they spied,
It bore the news on either side.
Some were so marked with printer’s ink,
They called to mind the bobolink
When first he dons his springtime coat
And gives the North his matchless note.
Next morning, when their printed sheet
Was found on doorsteps, folded neat,
And at each breakfast-table read,
Confusion through the city spread.
The Brownies from their hiding place
Looked on the scene with smiling face,
And said: “This proves, one must confess,
The wondrous power of the press.”
Dead Sea Scrolls
by Helen Wesson
“Bill Haywood’s slip-sheets are collectors’ items,” reported Shel.
With the optimism of youth, young Shel expected the fine weather to hold until he finished Jamboree 5 in 1965, All 12 pages were done, with only the cover to go, when humidity swelled our rollers beyond use.
So the cover was printed at the Haywoods’. Later, removing Bill’s slip-sheets, Shel remarked, “There’s an article here by you… says ‘busy as a Marine on a six-hour pass’…”
“Migosh, that must be 20 years old,” I said, and sat down to riffle through the sheets. Picked the first date I noticed among them: The Quahaug, January, 1944!*
*Still in use at the APC meeting, July 1968.
A Goodly Company
by Sheldon C. Wesson
JOHN SULLIVAN was unloading his car-trunk outside my motel-room door that Saturday morning – so I started buying type even before breakfast on the first day of the APA Wayzgoose in June. In fact, it was 48 hours of type-swapping, type-buying and type-talking with the gang of stimulating people that the Amalgamated always brings out at the annual Picnic.
Chicago has the added magnetism of Al Frank’s. While the colorful proprietor of the world’s largest elderly-lead boutique was ill, and so could not attend the banquet nor take our money personally on Sunday morning, we reveled in his personality in absentia. Dave Churchman drove me down to the warehouse, arriving at 7:55 a.m. Dave Peat and his gang had been there an hour! By 8:45 I was broke, and still excavating treasure. Almost as if by intention to sweeten the five floors of leaden goulash for us, Frank had several stands of almost-new type and a dozen cases of European foundry type, much of which now has found a happy home here at Confusion Headquarters for the Northern District of Essex County.
The availability of the Frank Emporium and the great arrangements made by Les Feller, Ward Schori,
Harold Smolin and their gang combine to make Chicago a hard act for any other convention city to follow. Churchman characterized the program neatly: Loose enough so you could do things, and planned enough so there was always something to do.
The Worleys cheerfully hauled out my for-sale stuff and hauled back the evidences of their own acquisitiveness plus cargo for Frank Rogers and me – for which repeated thanks – while we flew. Their car perceptibly tail-dragged on the return trip.
It’s been a pleasant summer sorting out fonts of type which had been dumped from cases onto sheets of paper and packed up like sandwiches.
Siamese Standpipe 51 – Sept. 1968
Helen & Sheldon C. Wesson
Glen Ridge, New Jersey 07028