14 February 2013

Rare in Toronto

If you know anything about book design and printing in England in the early twentieth century, most likely you will recognize the style of this printed book cloth. If you don’t, and you live near Toronto, you will just have to come and hear the lecture I’ll be giving in on March 5th at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library.

The title of the talk is entitled The Stacks School of Typography, and the will attempt to explain the role that some specific library collections have played in my evolution as a book designer, with specific examples of the ways in which libraries and archives can be used as workshops for learning about typography and design.

My talk will be the 2013 Leon Katz Memorial Lecture, endowed by Johanna Sedlmayer-Katz and organized by The Friends of The Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library. When there are that many proper names lined up around a lecture title, you feel a certain pressure to deliver the goods. While I usually talk off the cuff, this lecture will be delivered from a prepared text – though I will no doubt deviate from it liberally.

(If you’re stumped about the printed book cloth above, it was printed at the Curwin Press in 1931. But if you want to know how it’s linked to Acadia University’s rare book collection in Wolfville – my home stacks, as it were – you’ll have to attend my talk.)

Leon Katz Memorial Lecture
Tuesday 5 March 2013 at 8:00 p.m.
Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library
120 St. George Street, Toronto


In the meantime, I’m trying to spend some time overhauling our Linotype. Having cleared the jam behind the escapement mechanism, I’ve moved on to sorting out some sticky keys and bars on the keyboard.

A view from the top of the keyboard, opened to expose the cam yokes. When a key is depressed on the keyboard, a trigger moves and drops a cam onto the rubber roller. The revolution of the cam on the roler raises a rod, which in turn opens the escapement and drops a single matrix from the magazine into the assembly channel. It’s like a giant game of dominos.

Cam yokes extracted and lined up for cleaning and oiling.

One key was not working at all, so after removing the cam yoke, I checked the triggers to see whether I could spot the source of the problem. Hmmm. One of these things is not like the others; one of these things does not belong. (Everything I ever needed to know about troubleshooting equipment I learned from Sesame Street.)<

I’ve noticed since I started working on the Linotype that Gary has taken a renewed interest in the Monotype composition caster that we’ve had in storage since about 2005. He’s been rummaging around, cleaning up moulds and trying to find missing parts. Is this the beginning of our own little Monotype vs. Linotype battle of the casters? Curious.


Speaking of battles, through careful management, I have managed to hear absolutely NONE of the nonsense that is CBC Radio’s Canada Reads this week, but reports from friends who have been unlucky enough to have caught portions of the broadcasts suggest that the program is an embarrassment to the nation’s literary culture. All I can say is that I have voted with my fingers, and turned the dial.


10 February 2013

In Situ

I spend a good portion of my life in my office, which sits on the corner of our building, just off the letterpress studio. Here's a few of the things kicking around my desk which are important in some way to my work.

1. Reference books. As well as phone and address books, I keep a few important volumes within reach: The Oxford Canadian Dictionary, Robert Bringhurst’s Elements of Typographic Style, and Carl Dair’s Design With Type. Also on this shelf are a few type catalogues (like the one from my friend Patrick Griffin’s Canada Type) and some sewn signatures made of different weight papers for estimating spine thickness.

2. Pantone swatch.

3. Pica rulers, squares and French curves. I grew up at a drafting table and have one in my office, directly behind the camera position. I still occasionally find drawing the quickest and easiest way to work out an idea, though I use it more for cutting than drawing most days.

4. Litho stone. a gift from Jack McMaster.

5. Not a Mac. It’s actually an HP Pavilion dv7. (We’ve always been a Windows based shop.) I designed my workspace around a 5.5 foot square counter-height table placed in the middle of room because I didn’t want to spend my life sitting in a corner. I wanted to look into and across the workspace. I can work standing or sitting. I also abandoned my desktop and went to using a laptop exclusively. I soon got tired of moving back and forth between a large and small monitor depending on where I was working, so I ditched that too. I’m less reliant on seeing what I’m setting than I used to be, as I have a pretty good sense by now what it looks like when I set 23 pica lines of 10/13 Quadratt on an 5 × 8 inch book page, or whatever. I can see that in my head, and it’s all conjecture until you study paper laser proofs anyway. The only time I miss the large monitor where I can spread things out and keep many windows and pallets visible is when I am working on typefaces in FontLab.

6. Vandercook 219 proof press. This is the press on which the majority of our letterpress work is printed. It’s slow as letterpresses go, but it’s dead accurate in registration and inking. Of late, I have tended to keep this press set up for printing from photopolymer plates and have been using Glenn Goluska’s Universal I (which has an adjustable bed) for printing from wood and metal type. I’ve had this press since 2000, and my evolution as a book designer owes much to my experience operating it. I like to keep it close by, so it lives right in my office.

7. Poster from Hatch Show Print in Nashville, which I visited this past fall.

8. A microscope. On long-term lone from the Physics Department at a nearby university. A very useful tool for close examination of type.

9. Nipping press. Used in hand-binding books.

10. The day’s stack of incoming unsolicited manuscripts. As well as designing and letterpress printing, my role at the press includes selecting and editing the books on our trade list. We receive anywhere from two to five unsolicited manuscript from authors and agents every business day. We try to answer everyone within about six months, but it is difficult to keep up with the volume of submissions. Perhaps one or two books are selected from this manuscript pile out of the ten to twelve trade books we publish each year. This means that I write scores of rejection letters every month. I sometime feel like I say ‘no’ for a living. It is by far one of the least fun aspects of my job. But every once in a while I stumble across a gem in the pile and get the privilege of writing a letter which exclaims a hearty YES!

11. G. The giant plywood G which hung outside our previous location, next door at One Church Avenue.

* * *

I’ve been spending a fair amount of time working my way through the various problems that must be resolved with our Model 31 Linotype before it can be run, starting with the assembly mechanisms and keyboard. There was a jam of matrices behind the escapement mechanism that had to be cleared. If you have understand the Linotype, this photo will mean something to you and you’ll shake your head in sympathy. If not, trust me, this is a picture you are better off never having the opportunity to take. Nothing that a six-hours tear down couldn’t resolve, though, with parts laid out and numbered on the floor like a trail of bread crumbs. Now that I’ve got this problem fixed I’m into more normal issues, like a sticky keyboard. Progress, but I’m still a ways off from trying to cast a slug.