Saturday, July 19, 2008

My Shop

I think that the first private press shop that I ever visited was Kay Kramer's in St. Louis. At that time, his shop was in a large room at the rear of the first floor of his home. It was spectacular! His gorgeous large Albion dominated the room, with his Vandercook SP15 nearby and a beautiful little pearl with a wooden base as well. He had his type in beautifully finished cabinets, with the cases all uniform oak-fronted. He had many of his books in the room, with a nice sitting area, beautiful prints and broadsides on the walls - it was to die for.
I later visited with Phil Metzger in his Crabgrass Press shop in a suburb of Kansas City. Again, although it was located in the basement, it was a truly beautiful shop, with (as I recall) a table-top Albion, a platen press of some description, many beautiful books and wall decorations. Phil showed me some truly awe-inspiring bindings that he had commissioned from Fritz Eberhard - incredible leather inlays of illustrations from Fritz Kredel - and I left feeling quite thunderstruck.
When I visited Leonard Bahr's Adagio Press in Detroit, I got a different feel, but I was equally impressed. Leonard's home was quite modest, and his shop was in the smallish basement. But it was so unbelievably meticulous that I just couldn't believe it (anyone who knew Leonard would agree that he was a remarkably meticulous person in everything that he did). Much of Leonard's library (that I purchased after his untimely death) was arrayed along one entire wall of the basement. His large C & P Craftsman press was in a tiny room in the rear of the basement, with a few type cabinets to keep it company. Leonard had a very fine collection of European foundry type, with Palatino being his "house face."
An astonishing place to visit was Carolyn Hammer's Anvil Press in Lexington, Kentucky. She used a tabletop iron handpress (I think that it was a Washington, but it might have been an Albion), and she worked in a small porch-like room at the back of the house. The shop was imbued with the aura of the craftsperson, and was almost like hallowed ground - of course, her home was like a museum, with many original works of art by Victor Hammer hanging on the walls (my wife nearly fainted when we walked into a bedroom and were confronted with Hammer's oil portrait of Thomas Merton - Carolyn casually talked about frequent lunches with Merton, as we sat with our jaws dropping to the floor. The original Merton portrait was actually destroyed in a fire, so this one was a later version).
I mention these various visits (and I have visited other beautiful shops over the years as well, and some not so inspiring) as a way of contrasting them with my own shabby shop, which is pictured above.
I do my composing in the basement, in a crowded room that shares space with pieces of corrugated board that I use in packing book orders, shelves with over 50 cartons of periodicals that I will probably never sell, and miscellaneous junk. One of the pictures shows a few of the blank cases opened to show how I store my collection of composing sticks.
As long as I was taking pictures, I decided to also show a couple of the rooms upstairs where I keep my book inventory. My wife and I actually own a duplex, with two apartments (one up and one down). We basically live in the first floor apartment, and I have filled most of the second floor apartment with books (although Ellen has a meditation room upstairs where she practices and studies Buddhism). My office is also on the second floor.
Fortunately, the basement is almost at ground level, so it stays very dry, and I store much stuff down there - it's a wonderful full basement with high ceilings, so I have lots of room for lots of stuff. I have a framing shop down there where I frame fine prints that I sell at a local antique mall.
Finally, the press is out in the garage, and you can see that it is not a place of beauty. People familiar with Vandercook presses will notice that my press has extensions on the legs that raise the press about 6 or 8 inches higher than most presses sit - I guess that this was an option that the original owner wanted. It does help keep me from having to lean over to operate the press, which is pretty nice, actually. In the wintertime I put the press in mothballs, moving everything from the other side of the garage so that my wife can park her car in there - it's too cold to do any printing during the winter, unfortunately, which is why I hope to one day move to a house with a walk-out basement that I can put the press into. The press weighs about 2,000 pounds, so bringing it into the house and down the stairs to the basement is out of the question. The temperature extremes in the garage mean that I have to keep the rollers in the house, and bring them out to the garage every time I want to do some printing. I also have to schlep the type forms and various other stuff back and forth between the house and the garage (which is probably 40 or so feet behind the house) every time I go to print - it's a pain in the ass, to be blunt about it.
Anyway, that's it. I work in this crummy space, but I still love it! I have CD-players around to listen to music (I have about 4,000 music CDs, which is crazy, but true), and there's nothing quite like putting on some nice music, getting an adult beverage, and distributing type! Heaven!

Schizophrenomania, by Matt Jasper

Here's one of my favorite Contre Coup Press books. As I've mentioned previously, I think, my main purpose in printing is to make books that people will enjoy reading, and here is a book that I think is a really great read!
The book came about because I was visiting in St. Louis one day in 1997, and I was browsing in Streetside Records, a large store on Delmar Blvd. that I had frequented when I lived in St. Louis, only a few blocks away. I was looking at fanzines, and picked one up that had this essay printed in it. The essay really blew me away, so I bought it, and when I got home to Louisville, I contacted the author for permission to reprint it (yes, I know, it's very unlike me to actually ask permission, but I did so in this case). Not only did he give me permission to reprint the essay, but he also sent along some poems that were very relevant, and so I interspersed several of them throughout the book, set in a slightly larger typeface (14 pt., while the text was set in 12 pt.)
The book is 8-1/4 inches tall by 5 inches wide and has 31 pages. I set the text in Cochin and printed the book on Basingwerk Parchment paper (God! I wish they still made this paper - it was one of my favorites!). I used no decoration whatsoever in this book, wanting the words to totally speak for themselves. I printed a total of 16 copies on the Vandercook SP20.
The book was bound, as usual, at the Campbell-Logan Bindery. I asked Carol Blinn to pick out a selection of her paste papers to use for the bindings, and she sent along an interesting variety - the books are bound in several different designs of paste paper; I can't remember how many different ones there were, but perhaps six or eight different designs.

Cefmor British Composing Stick

Here's another variation of the typical British composing stick. This one is stamped "Cefmor London", so I assume that Cefmor is the manufacturer or distributor. This stick is twelve inches long, and has a depth of only 10 picas - rather shallow. The stick itself is stamped out of sheet metal, and it appears to be nickel-plated, rather than being stainless steel. The knee is very similar to the typical British knee, with the strap encircling the stick. But the clamp is different than the typical stick. This clamp consists of a lever attached to a screw mechanism that is at an angle to the stick, and exerts pressure on the strap when turned, thereby locking the knee in place. One oddity is the end-plate, which is a quarter-circle shaped block that is riveted to the stick - the final photo shows the rivets on the back - I've not seen one quite like this before.
For some reason my pictures are rotated on this post - I don't know why. Sorry.