One of the best parts of cutting new wood type is combining a historic type design with a modern printer need. Ever since I started making type, my daughter and almost every new letterpress printer has had an interest in ampersands. They watch for them on E-bay. They search for them in antique stores and at print shop options. Finding an Ampersand in a box of old wood type sorts is like finding gold. I know of at least five people who collect ampersands.
When you check the Hamilton Scale of Fonts in a specimen book, you will find the smallest set of uppercase wood type, the 3A set, has one ampersand in the character set. However, when you go up to the 4A set or 5A set, you will get two ampersands. Every wood type font I have found has at least one ampersand.
About 4 years ago I started making what I call “Ampersand Dots”. I did not sell them in the MWT type store back then, I made galleys of them to take to different Wayzgoose conferences to sell to printers. The biggest problem was picking which eight ampersands to reverse out of the dots. I put an E-mail request out to ten printers I knew and asked them to send me a scan or at least the name of their favorite fonts. I put together a survey of the top 12 answers and then did a survey at the APA Wayzgoose at Mt. Pleasant, Iowa.
I decided to make the ampersand dots in sets of eight designs. To get the best use of my prepared maple I made them at 6 line and at 4 line. I laser cut the ampersand out of the center of each dot, leaving enough solid wood to look proportional. I figured out how to laser cut very light registration marks that the pantograph would cut away after the type blocks were cut in a perfect square.
The “Box of Ampersand Dots” I am selling in the MWT store allows more printers to work them into the design of their prints or cards. I have also made them at 8, 10, or 12 line as special orders
See if you can name the eight different fonts used in the MWT Ampersand Box set. I will post the correct names in the near future.
If you want bigger ampersands, check out the www.virginwoodtype.com store.
One of the prize finds on E-Bay or in an antique shop is a Manicule. That is the historic name for what some people call a “Printer’s Fist”, a “Pointer”, or an “Index”. They have been cast in hot metal for hundreds of years, and pantograph cut in hard maple starting around 1835. The wood type versions could be made in larger sizes by using a pantograph and the skills of a room full of women engravers and type trimmers.
I have been making manicules based on historic wood type specimen books for about five years. For the first few years they were pantograph cut solid ones and open ones because I have not done any engraving for about 40 years since I was in college. When I was lucky enough to get access to a CO2 laser at a local makers space, I was finally able to add the engraving lines. The original idea was to pantograph cut the basic shape in end grain hard maple and use the laser to add the engraving line. Now that I own my own 90 watt CO2 laser I have created four different manicules to sell.
solid one is based on a design from a 1905 Tubbs & Company specimen, the open one is from a Morgans & Wilcox specimen book from 1898. The engraved one with the fine lines is from the Hamilton Wood Type Company specimen book #14, and the coarse engraved one was traced by Gregory Walters from an old specimen book in his collection from the UK. The English seem to like larger engraving lines.
All four designs I make are sold as pairs, to allow the printer more choices in the design. They are 15 pica, 12 pica, 10 pica, 8 pica and 6 pica line size tall. The larger ones are easier to design because the smaller ones need modified to be an “Optical Pattern”. Designer, Nick Sherman, explained to me that as you reduce the size of the design, the engraving lines get so thin that the side heat of the laser will wipe out the fine details. That means I had to go into the design and removed every third engraving line and then spread the rest out to cover the gaps. I also went to the trouble to carefully trace four sloghtly different engraving lines and mix them up on the type. The biggest problem I have had selling manicules to printers around the world is getting them to order the correct ones. Wood type is made “Type Reading” or backwards so that when it is printed the resulting impression is “Right Reading”. If the pointer finger on the type points to the left, it will print pointing to the right. If you are ordering one manicule for a printer as a Holiday gift, stocking stuffer, or an after holiday gift (if you wait to long) remember it will print pointing the opposite direction as the new wood type.
When I was lucky enough to get my Hackler Block Leveller five years ago from a good friend in West Virginia, I did lots of research on other block levellers that had once been used to make end grain slabs of hard maple type high. I wanted to see how they worked so I could figure out how to properly use my Hacker. The only one that came up in research was the Vandercook model.
I found out there was one on display in a shop in New Jersey with a whole series of nice photos by Nick Sherman. For the next four years I never heard about them again. Then a printer friend said he has found one in Virginia and wanted my opinion. He bought it and hauled it to Illinois. Another friend bought the one in New Jersey and hauled it to Ohio. I spent several days and machined him out some missing parts. he s0ld it to Virgin Wood Type. The first one was purchased by Adam and Tammy Winn in Des Moines, Iowa.
Dave Peat and I made a road trip to Des Moines to help get it cleaned and running. We also replaced all the 3 Phase 220 motors with 110 volt single phase ones. Erin and Tammy cleaned all the years of dirt and oil off the outside until it looked new. I am rebuilding the old hard leather “Friction Drive” for the table and Adam is figuring how to get the 400 pound steel table off so it can be lubricated.
Adam and Tammy plan to start making replacement letters, new wood type, and selling beautiful type high end grain maple slabs for other printers and engravers soon. People always tell me I should not be giving away my secrets to my competition, but I have always maintained “The more people making new wood type in the world the better”!