11 January 2010

Farewell to Jim Rimmer

Jim Rimmer looking at a tribute to his typefaces printed at Gaspereau Press for 'Rimmerfest'

Jim Rimmer died of cancer on Friday January 8th. Jim was the proprietor of Pie Tree Press in New Westminster, BC, where he designed and printed books, designed and cut original metal typefaces which he cast on his Monotype casters, and designed numerous digital typefaces which are commercially available through P22 Type Foundry. He was also a skilled illustrator and a jazz enthusiast.

Jim got his start with type as a student at Vancouver Technical High School in 1948. He left school early to take an apprenticeship at JW Boyd and Sons (where his grandfather was foreman) where he learned the compositor’s trade. He worked for newspapers and printshops in mainland British Columbia for years before ‘retraining’ as a graphic designer and illustrator. In the 1980s, Rimmer worked with Gerald Giampa, digitizing old typefaces and drawing new ones for Giampa Textware in Vancouver. But it was after his ‘retirement’ that Jim really got down to work, turning his full attention to his twin ventures, the Pie Tree Press and the Rimmer Type Foundry.

There is a more substantial account of Jim’s work in his memoir, Pie Tree Press, which Gaspereau Press published in 2008, but I want to quickly mention two things here. The first is his typeface Amethyst, which I think is his crowning accomplishment as a type designer. It is an extraordinarily fine typeface, one that Gaspereau has used to great effect in both offset and letterpress printing. It is a world-class piece of design. The second accomplishment is Jim’s final book, his The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which is set in Hannibal (a metal type Jim designed, cut and cast in his own shop for that project) and is generously illustrated with his own linocut illustrations. It is a masterwork.

Jim Rimmer's edition of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

I first met Jim on the telephone back in the late 1990s when, on Wesley Bate’s recommendation, I called Jim and asked him to cast some fonts of type for me. I never did get that type, and though I requested several fonts of type from Jim over the years, he never got round to casting any of them. This was my own fault, as I declined to impose myself on him as a ‘client’ and always made orders at the end of long and enjoyable conversations with an informal “Jim, I’d really like a couple fonts of your Cartier whenever you can get around to it – no hurry.”

I did get on board with Jim’s digital types, however, and have be using and promoting them ever since he sent me one of the few Rimmer Type Foundry catalogues he produced before deciding to distribute through P22. Jim’s Amethyst and his revival of Goudy’s Garamont are frequently on our presses.

A page displaying Jim Rimmer's Amethyst types, from RTF's 'Catalogue One' which Jim sent me in January 2001.

I’m going to miss our long, transcontinental telephone calls. Mostly Jim and I talked about book projects, type design and type history. One night, Jim recounted the long and complicated story of his association with Gerald Giampa, and of Gerald’s bizarre mixing of fact and fiction which lead to Mike Parker’s theories about Stanley Morison ‘borrowing’ the design for Times New Roman from an earlier design by a fellow named Burgess. (That’s a story for another day.)

I spent a day in Jim’s amazing studio and foundry in New Westminster a few years ago during a visit to the West Coast. What I learned in that one day about type founding still makes the hair stand up on the back of my arms when I think about it. I was also able to host Jim for a weekend in my own shop as the guest of honour at our Wayzgoose in October 2008, when we launched the trade edition of his memoir. I watched Jim oil, clean and inspect the Monotype caster we have in storage for future restoration, almost bursting with excitement as he explained to Gary and I the workings of the caster. Everything was possible in Jim’s world view. There was no machine past redemption, and no person either.

Jim Rimmer setting up a lino block on my Vandercook 219 at the 2008 Gaspereau Press Wayzgoose

Jim planned to return to Nova Scotia this past spring to help us get that caster up and running, but the initial round of treatment for his cancer changed this plan. Late this past fall, when the doctors told Jim he had only a short time to live, I got in touch to see how he was holding up. (I resisted the urge to ‘order’ type again.) He told me about the projects he was working on, saying: “I’ll not going to die for the whole remainder of my life, just for the last fifteen minutes of it.” That sort of sums up Jim!

What I’m trying to say is that Jim was a lovely and generous man, a quiet and unpretentious genius with letters and machines. He was a true craftsman, guided by his own curiosity and a love of making letters and fixing things. Jim was the kind of guy everyone liked being around. He loved what he did and was quick to share what he knew with anyone who took an interest. I owe a lot to Jim Rimmer and hope I can make something worthwhile out of what he’s taught me about type and about life.



Greensleeves said...

A beautiful tribute to a gifted, wholly dedicated man.

Ian Trowell, London, ON

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Anonymous said...

I did not know that he had passed and I had the privilege and honour of meeting Jim Rimmer and Alex Widen at his New Westminster home and his amazing composing room full of type! Both men inspired me with their professionalism and passion for typography! He showed me the development of his Amethyst font and he passed sketches of this gorgeous typeface! His talents outstretched beyond type and I will be forever grateful for his generous design knowledge.