Printing presses

DavidR8

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I’m a self-described print-aholic. I love everything about printing, the smell of the ink, the old mechanical printing presses, font design, typecasting, the whole shebang.

Thankfully my partner shares my passion. Last night we watched a documentary about Jim Rimmer owner of Pie Tree Press, walking the viewer through the process of designing a new font, milling the matrix, casting the font and finally printing a test sheet.

He used some amazing old time machines, two pantographs to reduce the design to type size, a typecasting machine and finally a printing press.

During the dialogue he described how he bought the press and nothing moved, it was locked up solid. He gradually restored it to working condition partly with parts he made using his lathe.

It was quite inspirational (to a print geek like me) and warmed my heart to see these machines working away as designed decades after they were made, producing beautiful print material.

It is my aspiration to eventually be in a position to have a small print shop.


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francist

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I really like fonts and typefaces as well. I studied graphic arts in high school and became exposed to silkscreen mostly as well as different typefaces. I spent hours leafing through my Letraset catalogue as if it were candy! I never played with presses (my brother did though and ran his high school newspaper) but I could copy extremely well. So I would hand draw entire font styles just for fun. Later on I translated that into harder material — brass and copper (lots of my letters for architectural signs up and down the Island), as well as stone.

One of my favourite monument tablets was for a little girl who died at about 8 days old. This was back in the early 50’s and her family was not wealthy. She was buried in the town cemetery but with no marker. About 50 years later her older brother asked me to make a marker for her grave, but the only thing he had was a piece of paper his Mom had hand-printed as a death memorial. It was obvious she tried to make it as professional looking as she could which really touched me. So I took the paper and her lettering, enlarged it, and hand cut the words into a slab of white and grey Carrara marble exactly the way she had formatted it. I mounted the marble slab on a single cast bronze plinth to finish it off. We installed it together in the small prairie graveyard in rural Sakatchewan about 15 years ago, so she finally has her marker and in her Mom’s hand as well.

Okay then, on a lighter note, here’s a great book I was just leaving through the other day, circa 1937.

-frank

8078A10C-8C27-466E-B542-400E5AD603ED.jpeg

8816A05F-BF71-403B-ABE2-F032F50931BF.jpeg
 

DavidR8

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That is a wonderful story Frank, thank you for sharing. My mom’s side of the family is in Saskatchewan, Hazenmore to be specific. There’s a kind of beauty to the rolling hills of that province.

Fantastic looking book!
You’re clearly a man of many talents!


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francist

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Huh, that’s crazy. My Dad’s parents homesteaded at Limerick in the 1930’s.
 

DavidR8

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Limerick and Hazenmore are only 40 minutes apart!


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Manual Mac

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I went through 7th-12th grades in the 60s.
Although metal shop was my favorite (back then we had a whole wall of lathes, shapers, milling machines, welders etc.)
I also liked graphic arts shop (print shop) & we had some really helpful instructors.
Back then teachers were still allowed to (actually encouraged to) administer swats as a form of corporal punishment for infractions.
Some got very creative, one PE coach had a canoe paddle painted black with a red hourglass on it. Called it the Black Widow.
But by far the most painful was a simple thin 12”stainless ruler & given out by the print shop teacher.
It actually became a badge of honor to survive one of those swats. And you only needed one.
But I digress....
 

Nogoingback

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I went to high school in the late 60's in the SF Bay Area and took a printshop class. The students printed the
student newspaper (created by the journalism classes), and stuff like graduation announcements, awards and pretty much
anything else that needed to be printed within the school. Most of the machines had been donated by the local newspaper in the 1930's because they were considered obsolete then! The newspaper was printed on a huge
ancient machine that only the teacher was allowed to touch, but everyone had a chance to set type and run the platen
presses that dated to the late 1800's, if I remember it right. We also had some ancient typesetting machines
that had a keyboard like a typewriter which dropped brass slugs for each line of type and then injected molten lead
to created a bar of type. By today's stands all of those machines would be considered unbelievably dangerous,
which in a sense they were. I remember a few minor injuries, nobody was seriously hurt while I was there.
I used to run a German press called a Heidelberg, which was a glorified platen press that fed and extracted the
work: faster and MUCH safer. Good times.


This machine is very similar to what we used in class.

s-l640.jpg



Heidelberg press identical to the one I used to run.

s-l1600.jpg

 
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BGHansen

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Took graphics arts in high school and ran a Multilith 1250 and AB Dick 350(360?). They're both offset presses; work off the principle that oil and water don't mix. Also did letterpress with a hand operated press and a power platen press like the one pictured above. Never liked running the power platen, could picture my hands getting crushed swapping out the paper.

Bruce
 

Dave Smith

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in the early sixties I learned and worked in a small newspaper and print shop in the small town of Berthoud Colorado. I ran the job presses, linotype, newspaper press, and all the operations including setting hand type and melting lead to pour in press over wood ad mats (I actually have a hot lead mold press machine) ---my salary was 50 cents an hour with no overtime pay and after I learned everything the owner said I would be raised to one dollar an hour. after almost a year and no increase, I asked the owner if I had learned everything and he said yes I could do everything perfect. I then reminded him of his promise of one dollar an hour, but he said he had two kids in college and could only pay 75 cents an hour. I worked long hours there and 17 hours straight every Wednesday till the weekly paper was printed ---at only 50 cents an hour.-- I told him--sorry but I was not putting his children through college
and resigned----I did really enjoy learning all aspects of a small newspaper print shop, and all the nifty machines. Dave
 

nnam

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I visited a newspaper shop about 10 years ago. The speed of paper going through, cut and folded was amazing with those mechanical machines.

On the type face, the closest I got to was with computer, where I learned how true type font was coded in the file. I then read it and decoded it, then rendered it. I was trying to display Vietnamese text when there wasn't much support for it.

The curves of the font are encoded in cubic bezier.
It worked and I was amazed that I got it rendered nicely for big size.

The smaller sizes are harder. There are hints that Apple computer patented. To adjust for fine detail pixel location when very small scale location of the pixels don't follow the math curve.

Then there is anti alias, where multiple pixels near by need to have different gray levels to trick the eyes into thinking of a nice smooth fine line.

One more complicated problem is for the LCD display, they use sub pixel trick which every pixel are three dots of rgb, not on top of each other but next to each other. They use that to enhance the precision of the dots.

Those coupled with the slow speed of getting a single letter rendered, I decided to use fixed size fonts instead. Wow, that was a long time ago already.

Like Steve Jobs said about what he learned at printing press and developed true type font, I learned the small details of type face and my hand writing is much better.
 
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gr8legs

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This may be a long post - a subject near and dear to my heart, and time on my hands better spent here than agonizing over the virus news that is permeating everything else.

In my earliest years my father managed a movie theater and I suppose I got infected with the smell of printing ink while he was babysitting me at work. Does that seem a strange linkage? Let me explain: This was the early 1950's and in the basement of the theatre resided a Chandler and Price 'snapper' letterpress. Part of my father's job was imprinting advertising handout flyers for upcoming movie attractions with the name of the theatre and the playdates for the coming films. I, of course, had no idea what was going on (what can you expect from a 5 year old?) but between the smell of the oil-based ink and the rhythmic 'clunka clunka clunka thunk' of the press I guess I got an early memory implant that 'stuck'.

Additionally, since a lot of the printing type needed for these advertising pieces was pretty small, dad and I would go to the local newspaper to have some of the type he needed set on one of their machines. Oh my, the wonderful, almost Rube Goldbergian quality of the Merganthaler Linotype machine. A keyboard that released tiny mold matrices into a 'stick' - which then moved to a casting area where hot lead was forced into the type molds, and then the magic of re-distributing the matrices back into their slots for re-use on another line. Pure mechanical magic! Motors and cams and gears - it it any wonder that I ended up doing stuff in a machine shop? Plus they had a Heidelberg 'windmill' press that was perhaps equally entertaining. Who knows?

Fast forward a few years - By that time television had pretty much destroyed the movie industry and dad found other employment to support the family - but the theatre was still operating a couple of days a week - and so as a high-school sophomore I went to work there as the projectionist. Sadly, sometime in the interim - and probably for financial reasons, the C&P printing press in the basement was no more - but a bit of the odor of ink remained if you sniffed carefully.

So, I graduated from high school, went to college - and kept on as the movie projectionist. Finally, after completing school a 'real job' presented itself and I left the theatre behind.

Or did I?

One of my movie theatre co-workers and I had sort of agreed that if the business ever came up for sale, we should buy it; and amazingly enough a couple of years later that opportunity presented itself. So, at the tender age of 26 I found myself half-owner of a movie theatre. It was never really going to be a 'job' - we both were otherwise employed so this was going to be our 'hobby'. But I digress from the printing thread ~

Having those memories of that first press - and occasionally needing 'just a few' business cards or letterheads or postcards or whatever - I started perusing the newspaper classified ads (remember those?) looking for a press. And one eventually showed up, along with some cans of ink, fonts of type and other ancillary items to get everything started.

That press and miscellaneous was stored in the seller's basement - and I lost several friends after I got them to help me move it. You think moving a lathe out of a basement is a challenge? Hah!

Once I got the press relocated back into the space allotted for it at the theatre, I taught myself letterpress. Slow learning in the days before Internet and YouTube, but it happened. There's something very satisfying about hand-setting type, getting it locked up in the chase, securing it into the press and actually creating a final product out of 'nothing'. Yeah, the same as machining something useful out of a lump of metal - very therapeutic.

About this time I accidentally acquired a girlfriend. These things just happen. Eventually, as the relationship progressed (you don't want to spring stuff like this too early, they may run off screaming into the night) I mentioned that I owned a printing press. Turns out her father once worked for a printing company. Well, now!

So, we visited my press room. Oh dear, the look on her face - I would have received a more positive result had I gifted her with a paper sackful of fresh, steamy dog logs. Her idea of a 'printing press' was one of those modern, sleek, streamlined machines that hummed along producing finished product without human intervention - probably like the ones at her father's place of employment.

Strangely enough, this didn't turn out to be the 'deal killer' it first seemed. Perhaps in spite of my printing peccadillo we kept up a relationship. Whatever.

As our relationship puttered along and I had shown her the results of some of my printing projects, eventually she suggested 'another chance to see the printing press'. And so we did. This time she was actually interested - and so I helped her learn letterpress. Let me tell ya, she was a 'natural'. Artistically talented and with mechanical aptitude. My reaction: Wow! What a woman!

And as things came to pass, she started her own letterpress business as a sideline, using the press in the theatre basement.

That sounds like it should be the end of the story, but there's more -

The events related above happened in the mid 1970's. This was a terrible time for commercial letterpress printers (the industry was rapidly transitioning to offset) but an amazing time for us letterpress hobbyists. After that first press acquisition I kept looking at the classifieds and haunting the Portland area printing equipment suppliers. The lady and I expanded our library of type fonts, added additional equipment and eventually ended up with a very nicely accoutered full letterpress shop - including two Linotype machines and a Heidelberg windmill press.

As things evolved we transitioned her business into offset printing with photo-typesetting and now are a fully digital printing company. We even make our own rubber stamps. Most of the letterpress equipment and supplies are still on tap and ready for use. In her spare time she infrequently teaches an 'Introduction to Letterpress' class that lets us keep our fingers in the ink and the traditions alive. .

Oh, by the way - I'm not a printer - never claimed to be - but those first early exposures to the craft have had a life-long effect.

Wow, what a ride!
 

francist

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What an awesome story! Thanks for taking us along for the ride.

-frank
 

DavidR8

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This may be a long post - a subject near and dear to my heart, and time on my hands better spent here than agonizing over the virus news that is permeating everything else.

In my earliest years my father managed a movie theater and I suppose I got infected with the smell of printing ink while he was babysitting me at work. Does that seem a strange linkage? Let me explain: This was the early 1950's and in the basement of the theatre resided a Chandler and Price 'snapper' letterpress. Part of my father's job was imprinting advertising handout flyers for upcoming movie attractions with the name of the theatre and the playdates for the coming films. I, of course, had no idea what was going on (what can you expect from a 5 year old?) but between the smell of the oil-based ink and the rhythmic 'clunka clunka clunka thunk' of the press I guess I got an early memory implant that 'stuck'.

Additionally, since a lot of the printing type needed for these advertising pieces was pretty small, dad and I would go to the local newspaper to have some of the type he needed set on one of their machines. Oh my, the wonderful, almost Rube Goldbergian quality of the Merganthaler Linotype machine. A keyboard that released tiny mold matrices into a 'stick' - which then moved to a casting area where hot lead was forced into the type molds, and then the magic of re-distributing the matrices back into their slots for re-use on another line. Pure mechanical magic! Motors and cams and gears - it it any wonder that I ended up doing stuff in a machine shop? Plus they had a Heidelberg 'windmill' press that was perhaps equally entertaining. Who knows?

Fast forward a few years - By that time television had pretty much destroyed the movie industry and dad found other employment to support the family - but the theatre was still operating a couple of days a week - and so as a high-school sophomore I went to work there as the projectionist. Sadly, sometime in the interim - and probably for financial reasons, the C&P printing press in the basement was no more - but a bit of the odor of ink remained if you sniffed carefully.

So, I graduated from high school, went to college - and kept on as the movie projectionist. Finally, after completing school a 'real job' presented itself and I left the theatre behind.

Or did I?

One of my movie theatre co-workers and I had sort of agreed that if the business ever came up for sale, we should buy it; and amazingly enough a couple of years later that opportunity presented itself. So, at the tender age of 26 I found myself half-owner of a movie theatre. It was never really going to be a 'job' - we both were otherwise employed so this was going to be our 'hobby'. But I digress from the printing thread ~

Having those memories of that first press - and occasionally needing 'just a few' business cards or letterheads or postcards or whatever - I started perusing the newspaper classified ads (remember those?) looking for a press. And one eventually showed up, along with some cans of ink, fonts of type and other ancillary items to get everything started.

That press and miscellaneous was stored in the seller's basement - and I lost several friends after I got them to help me move it. You think moving a lathe out of a basement is a challenge? Hah!

Once I got the press relocated back into the space allotted for it at the theatre, I taught myself letterpress. Slow learning in the days before Internet and YouTube, but it happened. There's something very satisfying about hand-setting type, getting it locked up in the chase, securing it into the press and actually creating a final product out of 'nothing'. Yeah, the same as machining something useful out of a lump of metal - very therapeutic.

About this time I accidentally acquired a girlfriend. These things just happen. Eventually, as the relationship progressed (you don't want to spring stuff like this too early, they may run off screaming into the night) I mentioned that I owned a printing press. Turns out her father once worked for a printing company. Well, now!

So, we visited my press room. Oh dear, the look on her face - I would have received a more positive result had I gifted her with a paper sackful of fresh, steamy dog logs. Her idea of a 'printing press' was one of those modern, sleek, streamlined machines that hummed along producing finished product without human intervention - probably like the ones at her father's place of employment.

Strangely enough, this didn't turn out to be the 'deal killer' it first seemed. Perhaps in spite of my printing peccadillo we kept up a relationship. Whatever.

As our relationship puttered along and I had shown her the results of some of my printing projects, eventually she suggested 'another chance to see the printing press'. And so we did. This time she was actually interested - and so I helped her learn letterpress. Let me tell ya, she was a 'natural'. Artistically talented and with mechanical aptitude. My reaction: Wow! What a woman!

And as things came to pass, she started her own letterpress business as a sideline, using the press in the theatre basement.

That sounds like it should be the end of the story, but there's more -

The events related above happened in the mid 1970's. This was a terrible time for commercial letterpress printers (the industry was rapidly transitioning to offset) but an amazing time for us letterpress hobbyists. After that first press acquisition I kept looking at the classifieds and haunting the Portland area printing equipment suppliers. The lady and I expanded our library of type fonts, added additional equipment and eventually ended up with a very nicely accoutered full letterpress shop - including two Linotype machines and a Heidelberg windmill press.

As things evolved we transitioned her business into offset printing with photo-typesetting and now are a fully digital printing company. We even make our own rubber stamps. Most of the letterpress equipment and supplies are still on tap and ready for use. In her spare time she infrequently teaches an 'Introduction to Letterpress' class that lets us keep our fingers in the ink and the traditions alive. .

Oh, by the way - I'm not a printer - never claimed to be - but those first early exposures to the craft have had a life-long effect.

Wow, what a ride!
What Frank said, a fabulous story. I’m always so amazed by people’s stories.
Thank you for sharing!
D


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