One of my favorite parts of cutting new wood type is working with gifted printers and graphic designers on their special projects. One of the best joint ventures has been with Jennifer Farrell of Starshaped Press in Chicago. Jennifer is a friend of both my daughter and me. She has been on the Moore Wood Type Advisory Committee since I started four years ago.
When she and her daughter visited Columbus this summer, we spent some time planning about what new wood type designs we could work on together. She suggested a box set of snowflakes that she would design and I would cut in larger sizes with one of my pantographs and in smaller sizes with the laser I have access to.
We spent over a month working out the design problems and the limitations of actually cutting designs with a pantograph. She submitted eight designs that she created from actual photographs of snowflakes and settled on the six that we felt represented different variations that printers would like. We also decided to cut the set at 8 line and 10 line with the pantograph, and the exact same designs in 4 line and 6 line with the laser.
The deal was that I could make minor corrections to her designs to make them easier to cut on the pantograph. When I suggested changing the shape of one negative space to allow the pantograph tracer an easier path, she reluctantly agreed, but wanted to see an exact proof of what she had designed cut before I proceeded with my “Correction”. I am glad I did not make any changes to her beautiful designs.
I made laser cut patterns at 3 times the actual size so I could cut them at a 3:1 ratio out of ¼” Baltic Birch plywood. Once I had mounted them on ½ inch Baltic birch bases I did the pantograph math (It’s all about the math) and figured out what combination of cutters and tracers I would need.
As I cut all six test snowflakes I was amazed at how easily Jennifer’s designs would cut on a pantograph. Every curve, straight line and negative space was a wood type cutters dream. The finished snowflakes were beautiful. They needed no trimming or stamping, and allowed even the smallest .075” tracer to clear the tight spots.
When I visit colleges or book art centers to lecture on wood type design and the history of wood type, I always explain that William Page, one of the earliest wood type designers and producers, had always impressed me as someone who applied all of the limits and possibilities of tracer and cutter combinations into his designs.
Jennifer Farrell and her six “Snowflakes by Starshaped” designs followed Page’s design principals and artistry. I consider her to be in the very small group of gifted type designers who can mix beauty, design, and a true understanding of production techniques into wood type for the letterpress community.
I sent several boxes of our snowflakes to her studio in Chicago and she printed a beautiful poster for the Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum 2014 Wayzgoose. I cut 240 six line snowflakes on square bases. It is always so nice to see the photos printers send me of how they are using the snowflakes.
Two of the new items I am getting ready to add to the MWT type stop are perfect examples. They are the MWT Line ornament #32 and MWT Line Ornament #33.
I had first noticed these line ornaments two years ago when going through an old type case at Paul Aken’s Platen Press Museum in Zion, Illinois. I never fail to leave his Museum without pictures of rare, old wood type he has collected. When I got home, I started searching through historic type specimen books. I found both of them from two different wood type producers.
Number 32 uses round elements and spokes in a fan shape design. It was first made by the Tubbs Manufacturing Company and is found in the 1905 specimen book. They called it a #66 Space ornament. It is also found in the Hamilton #14 Type Specimen book as Fancy Ornament #16. Both versions are similar but show some variations.
I put all three sources into an Adobe Illustrator file and started correcting the math. All wood type design is math. The resulting vector art file can be used to make large patterns for the pantograph, and the smaller, the same vector file controls the laser I use to cut wood type in end grain hard maple.
This design is very involved, with lots of hand trimming. The round ball were distorted, the spokes of different widths, and one version has a central round dot and the others had a round dot with a shoulder within the spoke area. I am very happy with my final design. This ornament is laser cut at 4, 6, 8, and 10-line size. 12 lines and larger is cut on the pantograph. When laser cutting wood type you also have to distort the stroke on some line values to correct for the .003″ lost to the laser “Kerf”.
Line ornament #33 is found in the Morgans and Wilcox Specimen book form 1893. It is called Fancy Ornament #13. When Hamilton bought out Morgans, they included it in their specimen books.
I have been selling them at type conferences and given them away to printer friends for over a year. Both of these new items will soon be available in my on-line store and I will follow the tradition of selling them in pairs.
On this 4th of July, I thought I would share this reproduction of an article in the Miller & Richards 1907 Type Specimen Book from Edinburgh, Scotland. It certainly makes American letterpress printers appreciate our “Freedom of the Press”
Printing in Russia
At a time when attention is constantly being directed to the land which bulks so large in the map of Europe, something concerning the conditions attendant on the exercise of the craft of printing amongst its people will be appropriate. An American contemporary states that from the moment a Russian subject petitions the Czar’s Government, through the Minister of the Interior, for a concession to conduct either a printing or publishing business, he is subject to the most galling regulations, restrictions and surveillance that the Muscovite mind is capable of conceiving. A most searching enquiry is made by the secret police in the antecedents of the applicant, and if found that the slightest suspicion was ever entertained as to the loyalty of any member of the family, this fact is held to be sufficient reason for a peremptory refusal of the concession, even though the life record of the applicant may have been beyond reproach from an official standpoint.
The policy of the Russian Government is restrictive in the extreme. Publicity and dissemination of progressive ideas are most strictly tabooed, and as a precaution, the Government exercises complete control over every printing office and type foundry throughout the empire, and neither of these establishments can be opened without first securing very special authorisation, which each year is becoming more and more difficult to obtain.
The Minister of the Interior, next to the Czar the most powerful official in Russia, has absolute sway in the matter of granting petitions, and he may render his decision when he sees fit, and it is no uncommon occurrence for the petition to find a final resting place in an obscure pigeon hole, the applicant having to await this official’s pleasure. An appeal would be worst than useless. Should the printer be so fortunate as to obtain the concession, the
EXCEEDINGLY HEAVY RESPONSIBILITIES
that accompany it and the resistive censorship that fetters his every action, and his helpless dependence upon a number of venal officials devoid of scruples of any kind, are sufficient to crush out much of the enterprise with which he may have originally been endowed.