Thursday, April 14, 2016

This small page, printed for the 2016 volume of It's a Small World (a printers' specimen exchange) features three ornaments recently cut and cast by hand for Colonial Williamsburg's Printing Office. They are very busy with the project of re-printing a type facsimile of The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union Between the States . . .   printed by John Dixon and William Hunter, Williamsburg, 1778.

Quoting a communication from their Master Printer, Peter Stinely,  "The egg ornament was used by two of the Williamsburg printing houses, first by Joseph Royle in 1763, according to A Dictionary of Colonial American Printers' Ornaments and Illustrations, by Elizabeth Carroll Reilly,"  (American Antiquarian Society, 1975).   Because these typographical elements are not available from any extant typefoundry, in order to create a proper facsimile of the title page of the 'Articles' new sorts had to be made.  As a friend of Peter, and the Williamsburg Printing Office, I was happy to take up the challenge of re-engraving the steel punches, striking and fitting the matrices, and then hand casting the type -- using exactly the same methods that were employed in the 18th century.

Peter supplied photographs of the original page, I enlarged these and drew over the images with a black pen -- attempting to reduce the effect of 'ink squeeze' seen in the printed ornaments.  I then cut a brass gauge to match the type body of 12 points, and its half (6 points).  The 'egg' is 12 x 6 points while the other two ornaments fit upon a type body that is 12 points square ( which is an EM width. ) Gauge completed, I filed and polished three lengths of high carbon steel and then laid out the designs upon the shiny faces of the punches.  Great care was taken to get all of the proportions correct.

The outside profiles of the ornaments were shaped with files, and the inside components were cut with gravers.  The goal of matching the appearance of the original ornaments was achieved through careful observation, methodical engraving, and the use of soot impressions (called smoke proofs) that were taken as the shapes evolved.  When the smoke proofs seemed to match the original images that stage of the task was completed.

Later, I discovered that two of these three ornaments are shown in specimens of types cast by Edmund Fry's type foundry.  I had reprints of Caleb Stower's 1808 Printer's Grammar, and the Printing Historical Society reprint of Fry's 1828 specimen.  The Fry foundry was established in 1764 and sold in 1828. So for a document printed in 1778 Fry could well be the source of at least two of the ornaments.   But that doesn't explain the egg's use in Williamsburg in 1762.  This can be resolved through actual research -- clearly not an hour spent in my limited library.

Here is the red forme for the recto side of the leaf, employing 'modern' spacing materials and a rather spiffy, zinc alloy and spring loaded frame used to 'tie up' the page.

A close up of that red forme.  Note: the cap R was replaced when the page was printed due to a flaw in the letter.  (Not my casting I should say.)

Here is the beginning of the text column for the same recto side of the leaf -- the black forme.  I surrounded the initial letter (printed in red) using the same ornaments but printed in black. The display line -- the title of the page -- was set in Fournier le Jeune, a 20th century re-engraving of a set of ornate capital letters cut in the 18th century by S. P. Fournier (called le Jeune).  The pearl-like shapes seemed well suited to the design of the ornamental border.  But the casting was on excessively wide set widths and most of the letters required extensive kerning.  This involved cutting away the sides of the types, leaving portions of the letters overhanging their neighbors.  Such details are essential if the final result is to be remotely attractive.

The Atelier Press & Letterfoundry will soon be moving into much needed additional space -- a new, 24 foot by 32 foot building that will house a casting room, a multi-use area, and of course the printing office.  While there is never enough space, this shop will ensure a place to operate my pivotal and Thompson type casters, as well as sufficient height to accommodate my Schneidewend, Washington hand press.  We have great hopes for this wonderful working environment and the opportunity to expand the activities of the press.

A large bequest from the late Raymond S. Nelson (Senior) has made this shop building possible.

Here we see my son Ray helping to install wall board.  This stage is now complete and we are busy painting the shop, as well as adding the trim carpentry.

Two weeks ago a trench was cut to bring power to the shop, using a ditch cutting tool popularly called a 'Ditch Witch' (much as facial tissue is known as Kleenex).  This monster machine, weighing 5,000 pounds is essential a chain-saw for dirt.  Will very powerful, and a bit scary, it proved manageable and did a fine job -- especially at finding large stones.  These had to be dug out or dug around.  Only one actually proved a problem but labor won out.

Coming Soon:  Pictures of a finished work shop.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Mould #54 is a nineteenth century style mould, made for the Swedish artist Richard Arlin, living and working in Stockholm.  Richard cuts his own punches, strikes his matrices, and casts his founts in hand moulds, as well as making his own paper and illustrating his projects with etchings and relief prints. Mould #54 was designed to provide Richard with a convenient tool that would also allow him to cast type in three sizes: 14, 16, and 18 American points.  This is accomplished with two sets of interchangeable body pieces, as well as a set of two point shims that go beneath the 16 point bodies.


As the body pieces are altered the mouthpieces (the funnel into which liquid metal alloy is poured) are also shimmed to accommodate the change in type size.  The mouthpiece has a brass apron attached that facilitates pouring metal into the mould with a sharp, quick motion.


This mould has a screw adjustable 'stool' which is the abutment against which the matrix fits when casting.  But there are also four 'fixed' stools to be used when casting plain-chant music.  These are ground to precise 4 and 8 point increments.  This allows the music matrix to be positioned with perfect repeatability but at different intervals.

     Grooves were cut in the body pieces to vent the mould, letting air escape during casting.  And as an experiment special 'nuts' were crafted, based upon those used on Giambattista Bodoni's moulds.  They work very well to hold the register tightly.

     Mould #54 is one of the most versatile moulds made to date at the Atelier Press & Letterfoundry, and it is hoped it will facilitate the work of Richard Arlin.