The wheels on the press go round and round

Last night in class we had four letterpresses going: two running the two passes on a poster for an upcoming event, designed by our instructor and my mentor, and the other two printing the card backs for greeting card blanks used in class projects. It was a good refresher in press setup, and I finally was up to speed enough to run the platen (clamshell) press that likely forms most people's idea of what a letterpress is.

We have a modestly sized manually operated platen with a treadle. You spin a wheel, and then use the treadle to keep it running. You've got to keep in rhythm to pull one page out after printing and put a blank sheet in. The second video contains actual footage of me printing.

My visit on Monday to Jules Faye, the bookbinder and printer, was wonderful, and I'm moving forward on collecting more detail and making more decisions for her to provide me with a bid and nail down more scheduling details.

Among other things, Jules convinced me that a folded 11 by 17 signature folded to 8½ by 5½ pages might look too ordinary. It's the same thing as folding a sheet of office paper in half, and she worried the book might feel too familiar in the wrong way. 

I agreed! It had bothered me and I hadn't put my finger on it. With the paper I'm nearly positive I'll use, I can instead cut a slightly different proportion. European paper sizes rely on the "golden section" proportion, which is 1:1.618. This is a particularly pleasing ratio for whatever reason our brains decide so, and it's only for odd historical quirks (as with everything in industry) that America uses 8½ by 11 as a standard.

So instead of an 11 by 17 sheet, I'll cut to A3, which is 297mm by 420mm (11.7 by 16.5 inches, roughly). That can be folded twice to get an A5 sheet, which is 148mm by 210mm (5.8 by 8.3 inches). A bit squatter, and a bit wider, it makes it easier to form a more readable single-column text layout and incorporate images.

Jules and her husband, Chris, ran Stern & Faye together, and had a huge barn full of letterpress gear and typecasting equipment. After Chris passed away a decade ago, Jules sold off most of their working collection to help form the nucleus of presses all across the Northwest. The casting equipment became the C.C. Stern Type Foundry, a museum in Portland.

Jules teaches bookbinding and continues to practice it as a profession.