Letterpress Workshop @ Bowne Printers, Part 2

Last Friday, my fellow art directors and I went back to the Bowne Printers to complete the 2-day workshop.

During the first session, we printed on the Vandercook Proofing Press, using historic metal and wood engravings and wood type from the Museum’s working collection. You can read about it in my previous post. We put together compositions for the first color, and I ended up feeling that my design was too precious. So this time, I wanted to do something little bit bolder.

Our lovely printing teachers, Ali and Gideon had laid out all sorts of Foundry Types on the tables. Despite feeling a bit sluggish all day because of rain, my senses started to wake up again with excitement.

While we were away for a week, Ali and Gideon cropped our proof down to individual 4x6 “chapsides” (small broadsides) cards.

The objective of this session was to learn about typesetting with Foundry Type, and printing on the C&M Hand Press, which is much smaller than the Vandercook Proofing Press from last week.

First, Gideon took us through history of Foundry Type. He also explained how each part of the movable type is named after a body part.

This wonderful movable type is stored in a compartmentalized wooden box called a type case. Ali took us through how a California Job Case, which is a kind of type case, is sorted. It was very interesting to learn that the letters J and U were not used by early English printers, so they are sorted after Z. He showed us the “chart,” which become very useful when putting together sentences. Ali also explained that the terms “upper case” and “lower case” originated from these drawers. The capital letters were literally stored in a separate case that sat above the type case that held the small letters. During the workshop, I learned so much about where many typography terms originated from and how meanings of some words  changed in time with the digitalization.

To start setting type, first you place a slug, a strip of metal, in a composing stick. Then it’s ready. You set the type. The letters are backward, and you have to place them upside down. Seems complicated, so I decided to lay out the type first and then turn them upside down once I knew what I wanted.

Once the first line is set, you place a slug in between lines of type.

I chose Franklin Gothic. I wanted it to read like a code in one block, so I spelled out words in Japanese without any spaces in between. These movable type is made out of lead, which is soft and easily damaged. I kerned carefully by inserting thin pieces of metal. Ali and Gideon told us that kerning used to mean trimming of lead off of a type block, not adding spaces.

Here’s the glorious C&M Hand Press and I’m ready to print. Unlike last time, we had to print one person at a time. I was not able to take pictures of every single step of the same person, since the space was limited. So I’m going to mix and match photos in order to explain the process.

Here’s Ali inking the press. He put the ink on the circular metal plate. He pressed down the lever a couple of times so that the rubber rollers could spread the ink, as the circular plate rotated.

Next step was to impose the form in the chase, which is a steel frame. He slid the type from the composing stick and placed it in the middle. When the type was locked into the chase with furniture, Ali placed two quoins, one on the right and one on the top. He tightened it all up with a key. This part feels familiar from last week, except this time was on the smaller scale.

Again, knocking on a wooden block, he made sure all the movable type had the same height.

Now the chase is ready to go into the press.

e placed a piece of paper and also three pieces of small metal to mark and secure where a 4x6 card sat. This process is once again really tedious and takes a lot of patience. It’s a repetition of adjustment until you get what you want. The key is moving the paper placement, not the movable type.

Here’s the stash of my cards. I want my text block to run diagonally across the red part.

Ali placed the paper and test print.

Turns out that some of the letters didn’t get the ink love. So Gideon patiently adjusted the height by replacing some of the movable type and also putting a scotch tape on the bottom. This process repeated a couple of times.

And voilà! I actually printed them myself, but have no picture to prove it.

Ali and Gideon were some of the most patient and nicest people I have ever met. I mean, having a workshop with a whole bunch of picky and demanding art directors has to be one of the most testing experiences! Not only were they incredibly kind, open and charming, I was beyond impressed with their wealth of knowledge. I highly recommend swinging by if you’re in the hood, I surely hope I’ll get to work with them sometime in the near future. I definitely have a project in mind.

I’d like to once again thank Ali and Gideon for giving the dream workshop of my life, Bob, for suggesting it, and the management for making it happen.

Bowne Printers
209 Water St
New York, NY 10038
b/t Fulton St & Beekman St in South Street Seaport