On Tuesday we visited Settle, in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales, to check on the progress of our wooden common press components. There may not be a lot to show at the moment but, as this aspect of the project has received such interest, it is incredibly exciting to show how it is beginning to take shape. You can find out more about wooden common presses and the reproduction side of our project here.
As wooden common presses are typically over six feet tall and construction requires low moisture content and solid hardwood, we couldn’t simply drop by B&Q to source our wood. Many parts of the press will be made from much larger stock than what is readily available but the team at The Wonder of Wood managed to source timber large enough to be used for the cheeks, and it can be seen in the photo below.
It was incredibly useful to meet Robert and the team in person to consult the plans, answer some questions and, thanks to their great problem solving skills, come to conclusions that only involved making minor adjustments to our original plans. Therefore we can work with the wood and not compromise on creating a true reproduction of the early 18th century Gent press.
Stay tuned in the coming weeks for a more detailed update on the construction process and the work of the machinist and blacksmith, as they too begin to pour their expertise into our project.
You can check out The Wonder of Wood and their work here.
Last week members of the Thin Ice Press team visited The Print Project in Shipley. The workshop, hosted by Nick, gave us the opportunity to learn about letterpress, get covered in ink and create something beautiful.
Nick began by using his work (check it out here) to show us the creative possibilities of experimenting with wooden and metal type and how we will soon be able to use the Thin Ice Press studio for our own creations. To get some experience with metal type, as members of the team less acquainted with the practicalities of letterpress, we decided to each set a line taken from The Life of Mr. Thomas Gent, Printer, of York.
In January 1739, the frost having been extremely intense, the rivers became so frozen, that I printed names upon the ice. I first set up, as it were, a new kind of press, only a roller wrapt about with blankets.
We opted to use different faces and point sizes. To someone far more comfortable with Photoshop, letterpress can be a daunting medium. If you set a line of text that ends up being too long you can’t just swipe over it to decrease the point size. This may sound obvious to readers familiar with letterpress but really got us into the mind-set of this completely different way of creating and showed us it is best to not ignore these differences, and treat letterpress like a digital printer, but to work with and embrace them. This led us to alter the line lengths and in turn, we think, create a more interesting design. The experimentation with different faces also taught us that we’re going to need some strict measures in place to ensure our type stays organised in a studio that will be used by many students in the coming months!
After transferring to the galley, packing with spacing and adding a flourish, we used the proofing press to highlight some amusing errors. We corrected our errors, proofed again and used this imprint to experiment with different layouts.
We finalised the layout and placed the forme on the bed of his Vandercook press. Nick showed us how to lock up the forme and secure it with furniture. He explained how pressure is exerted and the ideal shape to achieve – this certainly made us appreciate the work that goes into creating his extraordinary layouts. With paper size decided and cut, it was time to print. We took it in turns to use the press, ink the type and place on the drying rack. We even looked like we knew what we were doing…most of the time.
It was wonderful to get acquainted with metal type and spend some time in a fully operational studio. Big thanks to The Print Project for an incredibly useful and really fun day out. You can check out the website here.
Our first wonderful announcement is that, thanks to you generously donating and spreading the word about our crowdfunding campaign, we have hit our fundraising target! To find out how this will shape the future of Thin Ice Press click here and if you missed the crowdfunding deadline and still wish to donate you can do so here (please select ‘Other’ in the ‘Designation’ drop-down menu, and then type YuStart – Thin Ice Press into the box that appears).
To spread the word about our ambitions we welcomed members of the York Antiquarian Book Seminar into the studio. These guests were the first to see the space and it was brilliant to fill it with such enthusiasm.
We have also been out and about with our smallest press. The first of these events was the International Association of Bibliophiles visit to the University of York library. It was great to get involved with this event, talk about our project and in exchange see some interesting items from the Borthwick Archives.
The next day we headed to the 2018 York Book Fair. The event, at York Racecourse, featured over 220 bookdealers and is considered to be the largest rare and antiquarian book fair in the U.K. We took a stall by the entrance to entice people to chat and learn about our project as they waited in line to drop their bags.
Over the weekend the University held Open Days. We took this opportunity to get back in the studio and open it up to prospective students. Everyone loved printing on the Adana during the July Open Days and this enthusiasm was seen again (such as people reacting to the magic of their first imprint) but now alongside three large iron presses and the fragments of the early 18th century common press. It was also lovely to give tours of the studio and chat about our plans to integrate the print studio into teaching, student societies and publishing over the coming academic year.
Getting involved with these communities has been so rewarding and we’ve realised just how many people have connections to letterpress, from those who had once set metal type (and now want to stay as far away from the fiddly stuff as possible!) to people whose ancestors had owned a press. All acknowledged our madness for embarking upon such an ambitious project but certainly share our joy in the revival. It’s been busy here at Thin Ice Press and, in light of our fundraising campaign, we’re eager for this to continue.
Last week we went to the University of Leeds for the final in a series of conferences on letterpress printing. The previous three events had addressed The State of Historical Letterpress, Using Letterpress and Letterpress in the Digital Age; this time the focus was on Letterpress Printing: Past, Present, Future.
The conference featured key note lectures by Will Hill, Johanna Drucker, and Dafi Kühne to explore the survival and revival of letterpress today. Hill talked of fixity and materiality in print and the digital era and of popular phrases that transcend printing – it certainly ‘made an impression’ and showed how print is an environment for the making of meaning. The concept of value in letterpress was explored in many of the talks, including Drucker’s introduction to her life and creation of innovative letterpress books in the Bay Area. The beautiful and experimental books push conceptual parameters with a freedom from the traditional rules of face and spacing for aesthetic purposes. Her work has been fully digitalised and can be viewed at artistsbookonline.org.
To end the two day event Kühne, a graphic designer and letterpress print maker, talked us through the processes behind his work and how he overcomes problems (one example can be viewed in this entertaining video).
On the first day representatives from the heritage sector took questions from the audience. We discussed the idea of a national printing museum and how it could represent all kinds of print – from a broader historical narrative to technical information and backgrounds on early printers. This highlighted an interest in lesser known personal narratives, resonating with our aim to share the story of Thomas Gent at the Thin Ice Press. The debate between archival preservation and museum demonstration also showed how many people, both on the panel and in the audience, believed it is imperative to use these machines alongside teaching the history of print. This resonates with our aim at the Thin Ice Press to preserve and teach the printing process today in order to preserve how knowledge was disseminated in the past.
There were many more wonderful presentations on all aspects of letterpress, such as Naomi Kent’s on ‘Process not Product,’ in which she talked us through the processes behind her own work and how she took inspiration from 19th century decorative printers such as Albert Schiller. Seth Gottlieb, a member of the Thin Ice Press team, gave a talk titled ‘Letterpress printing: Enhancing STEM Curricula Through Practice-Based Research.’ It explored the use of teaching letterpress (outside the usual confines of history and design) to show how the tools and processes involved in printing provide useful lessons for STEM students to evolve their understanding of machinery and production. Such ideas were not seen anywhere else at the conference and, though the topic appeared unusual at first, the focus was incredibly fitting. It also gave an insight into his previous work at Rochester Institute of Technology, where he had worked with a team to build a late-eighteenth century common press. Our project at the Thin Ice Press would be impossible without his knowledge so it was amazing to gain a greater insight into his past work.
There was also the opportunity to view samples of work created by the speakers. This was another exciting aspect of the conference, a way of engaging with established members of the letterpress community, and something else we can look forward to creating at the Thin Ice Press.
At the end of the final day we even had an impromptu tour of the printshop at the University of Leeds and at Leeds Arts University. It was very useful to view these spaces to pick up tips on organisation and studio layout…and of course to marvel at the presses.
I’d like to say a big thank you to https://letterpress.leeds.ac.uk/ and all conference speakers from the team at the Thin Ice Press. It was wonderful to meet members of the letterpress community, discover new ways of getting involved and the many ways of preserving the art of letterpress.
On Saturday 16th June we traveled from York to the East Midlands for a visit to The Logan Press. As one of the busiest commercial letterpress printers and restores in the UK, it seemed like a fitting place for a research and buying trip.
We toured the company from the main studio to a separate warehouse that, as you can see from the photos, was packed floor to ceiling with a massive collection of presses.
There was the chance to see the beautiful restoration work on Arab platen presses up-close, with several in stock and at different stages of the restoration process. Patrick Roe told us about their work and the different projects The Logan Press has worked on, including an 1880’s Cropper that made an appearance in the film Sherlock Holmes II and many other projects. Some of their restoration work can be seen on the very punnily titled ‘heidelblog’!
The site is also home to the Fine Book Bindery who offer specialist hand bookbinding for private presses, publishers and the printing trade. Housing the two trades under one roof meant we could see how specialist book production works from letterpress printing to bespoke bookbinding – the result is a truly beautiful product.
Patrick Roe of The Logan Press and Giles Hovendon of AMR Press have also recently merged their two companies. On the website they describe how, having worked closely together in the past, the merge will allow the continued partnership of experience and equipment. It is also because they have ‘decided on a new strategy to ensure their ability to provide these indispensable services in the future.’ Therefore it feels brilliant to be delving into this world of letterpress, to not only support it but to also create and develop our own press within it.
As we viewed the different machines it became clear how amazing it would be to have presses from different eras at Thin Ice. Our vision had quickly evolved from the common press and a small table top Adana, to charting the history of print through our presses, but avoiding the dangerous Heidelberg’s of course – no chopped fingers at the Thin Ice Press!
We purchased a beautiful table top Albion, a later Arab Crown Folio with a solid flywheel (that will be restored by The Logan Press) and a large Colombian (complete with the eagle that is also currently waiting to be restored). So, by end of July, we hope to have one platen and two hand presses restored and ready at the Thin Ice Press.
By having presses instead of ‘a press’ our studio will be able to chart the evolution of letterpress history – from the original Gent common press alongside our reproduction, to The Columbian, the Albion and finally the Arab. We hope this will also really help to fulfill our aims in teaching an outreach, as more presses offer up more practical ways to engage with history and different applications and techniques.
Having three presses on the way has certainly made us more aware of how far we have to go to establish our press room and made our endeavor seem more real than it did a few days ago but still remains, above all, a very exciting development in the Thin Ice Press project. We would like to say a massive thank you to Patrick, Guy and Fran at The Logan Press for helping turn our vision of the Thin Ice Press into a reality…and also for the ride to lunch!