Common Press Construction Update at The Wonder of Wood

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.

Settle
Punny benches at Settle station
The Wonder of Wood
The Wonder of Wood

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.

Cheeks

Till
Other recognisable forms beginning to take shape include the till.

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.

Our plans
Our plans at The Wonder of Wood
Gent Press
The 18th century remains of the wooden common press owned by York printer Thomas Gent have informed the plans for our reproduction.
Uncommon Press
An example of a modern common press reconstruction – the Uncommon Press at the Cary Graphic Arts Collection at RIT (photos credit Seth Gottlieb).

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.

Yorkshire Dales

Thin Ice Press at The Print Project

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The Print Studio & Press Arrival

It’s been a hectic few weeks here at Thin Ice Press. A few weeks ago room D/L/051 begun its transformation into the print studio and, with all the old desks removed, the space was revealed to be great.

D/L/051
D/L/051 at the University of York…soon to be The Print Studio
team in the studio
The team in D/L/051 at the University of York

We’ve had many deliveries within the last few days. The first of these included type cabinets from urbanfox letterpress, some wooden type, spacers, ink…and a large yellow hazardous materials cabinet that is currently sitting in the English department reception!

Deliveries
Deliveries piling up…I think everyone in the department reception will be as excited to have these items set up in the print studio as we are!

Last Friday lunchtime the room continued its transformation as new flooring was fitted. This development came just in time for the delivery of our three iron presses from The Logan Press, and also of the historic Gent press from Scarborough Museums.

work begins
Work begins to transform D/L/051 into The Print Studio
Flooring
The flooring is down
new door
Shiny new door…soon to be changed to ‘The Print Studio’

The arrival of the presses today was one of the most exciting moments of the project so far. We were able to see how the iron presses we bought in June had been beautifully restored by The Logan Press and it was fascinating to watch all the parts come together to build the three presses you can see in the photos below.

Eagle
The eagle (a counterweight) from our Colombian press

Columbian 1

Columbian 2

Columbian 3

Columbian assembled
Our 1838 Columbian press assembled by The Logan Press
Albion
1847 tabletop Albion
Albion assembled
The smaller Albion seemed a lot easier to assemble in comparison to the Columbian
Arab 1
Arab presses were designed to be supplied in parts (like flat-pack furniture of today)

Arab 2

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Arab assembled
1926 Arab
the presses
1838 Columbian, 1847 tabletop Albion and a 1926 Arab joining our Adana 8×5 at Thin Ice Press (Adana not pictured)

The hectic day of deliveries continued with the kind loan of the early 18th-century wooden common press, once owned by York printer Thomas Gent, from Scarborough Museums. The arrival of this press means we are now able measure the final pieces of the Gent press and complete the plans of our own reproduction wooden common press.

Gent press
The disassembled 18th-century wooden common press

These recent developments mean we can now move on with many of our plans, from printing to common press construction, but it has also offered up a moment to reflect on what we have achieved in a relatively short space of time. There is still a lot to do, move into the studio and tweaks to be made on all the presses, but we are now custodians of a historic press and room D/L/051 is home to a (soon to be) working printing studio!

A big thanks to The Logan Press for your work today and to Scarborough Museums for loaning us the Gent press. I’d also like thank everyone who has subscribed to this blog and those following our journey on Instagram and Twitter – it is so wonderful to see your engagement and enthusiasm towards our project.

Letterpress Printing: Past, Present, Future at the University of Leeds

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.

Johanna Drucker
Johanna Drucker

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).

Dafi Kühne
Dafi Kühne

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.

Heritage roundtable
Representatives from the heritage sector

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.

Seth Gottlieb
Seth Gottlieb giving his talk on ‘Letterpress printing: Enhancing STEM Curricula Through Practice-Based Research’
Thin Ice Press
…and a shout out to his work at the Thin Ice Press

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.

Samples of work
Samples of work
Elizabeth Friedlander
A sample of the Elizabeth Friedlander typeface, relating to the talk given by Graham Moss on ‘The Bauer Type Foundry and Elizabeth Friedlander.’

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.

University of Leeds
University of Leeds
University of Leeds
University of Leeds
Leeds Arts University
Leeds Arts University
Leeds Arts University
Leeds Arts University

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.

Keith Cross
From the talk by Keith Cross on ‘Building a Foundation of Knowledge with Letterpress’

New Adana 8×5 & Open Days at the University of York

Last week we welcomed an Adana 8×5 to the Thin Ice Press. Below you can see some photos of the team gathered round our new press as we set it up and the first ever imprint!

Our new Adana

Setting up the Adana press
Learning how to set up, ink and clean the Adana
First imprint by the Thin Ice Press, at the University of York
The first imprint by the Thin Ice Press on our new Adana!

After viewing a wide range of presses at The Logan Press we began to realise how amazing it would be to own machines from different eras, allowing us to chart letterpress history. As the Adana is the first and most modern of our press collection it will allow us to extend that vision all the way from the 1700’s, with our common press, into the 1950’s with the Adana.

During our visit to The Logan Press we ordered three large iron presses so decided it would also be a good idea to have a more portable press, as the smallest iron press may be called a ‘table top’ Albion but it is far harder to transport in comparison to the much smaller Adana.

Tabletop Albion Press
Tabletop Albion Press
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The much smaller tabletop Adana

This will allow us to move the Adana around the University and even transport it to events – so we can tell people about the Thin Ice Press and the future of the project with a press alongside! Our first opportunity to try this out happened last weekend as the Adana arrived just in time for the University of York open days. We set it up in the English Department foyer so we could offer prospective students the exciting opportunity of hands on engagement with our first press, alongside chatting about the printing history of York and our future plans for the letterpress studio.

Adana Press at University of York Open Day
Using the press at the University of York open day!

It was brilliant to see how much enthusiasm was created by our first and smallest press – we can’t imagine how excited people will be to see the finished studio and other presses! Follow our Twitter and Instagram for more project updates and a big thank you from the Thin Ice Press team to Caslon for the speedy delivery of our Adana.