So excited to have these shelves installed! (Thanks to the carpenters who made this possible!) The tops of the type-cabinets have been both work-space and overflow storage. Now, with these shelves, we can get surfaces mostly cleared of storage, and useful for composing and other hand-work.
- Press bed.
- Racks and rails.
- Oscillator and rider rollers.
- Inking Rollers
- Gripper pedal and print/trip mechanisms.
Check, check, check, check, and check. We’re getting to some of the more cosmetic issues. While I admire gleaming restorations that I’ve seen elsewhere, I’m more on the side of getting it “print-ready” and then putting off the purely aesthetic touches until a rainy day after the press is back in operation. For example, the #4 I restored previously had been spray-painted–unevenly–metallic silver. I always intended to re-paint it–maybe the ever-popular machine-gray, or perhaps a bright red. But, a press prints no matter what color it is, and I never got around to re-painting.
The gripper-bar, though, is one of those pieces where function and aesthetics overlap. The brass adjustment knobs always pop when they’re shined up, and the gripper pins really do function better when they’re torn down, cleaned, and built back up. The bonus is that the underside of those pins often carry and transfer grime onto the gripped edge of a print, so the tear-down can address that small but annoying source of dirt. Some Before, During, and After photos here.
I’m inclined to accept Paul Moxon’s declaration that New Roller Day is a High Holiday in a letterpress shop. New rollers recently arrived for the Vandercook #4. I wish I’d taken a picture of them before sending them off to be re-covered. The previous rollers exhibited the wear and tear you might expect, given the status of the press when I found it.
While I was waiting for the rollers to arrive, I gave the roller frame and bearer-bars a deep clean down to the threads of the screws. Interestingly, as I was disassembling the bearer-bars and the set-screw that locks the rollers in place when the height is adjusted, I noticed that the set-screw couldn’t be removed by backing it out. I had to drive the screw all the way through, at which point it fell out the bottom of the roller frame. I forgot about this until I was in the process of reassembling the rollers in the bearer bars and frame. I first tried to attach the top of each bearer-bar pair to the roller frame, and then add the rollers.
But, remember that set-screw? Turns out I couldn’t add the set-screw from the top as I’d planned. So, I removed the rollers in the bearer-bar pairs, and then used a long thin screwdriver to back the set-screw on each end up through the hole. I can’t remember this happening before (this is the third press I’ve recovered and restored); what I think happened was that these set-screws had been consistently over-tightened, and the ends themselves had flared a bit, to the point where they were wider than the threaded holes. That, or it’s a design feature I’ve never noticed (or forgotten). Anyway, once I reversed the screws into place, rollers went home.
After the big push toward the end of the semester (final conferences, final projects, final grades, etc.), it was time to get back into the lab to tackle the next major part of the press restoration: I’ve been working on the bed of the Vandercook #4 to remove rust, and working on the racks and cylinder carriage. But in the interval, with a series of projects supporting other classes, the Vandercook #4-side of the lab had become the tarped “Do Not Enter”/storage-side of the lab. The feedtable was beneath the press, parts and tools were on the bed but under a drop-cloth, and I often found myself setting a typecase across the bed as a composing station during student workshops.
There’s been a lot of traffic through the lab, even in the first year and even as we’ve expanded on an almost monthly basis. We haven’t bottle-necked at the press yet (despite 60-odd students through the lab; workshops in the classes of five colleagues; a collaboration with the VAC; an open-house for the Queen City Zine Fest; and two extended group final projects for another colleague’s students)–but I’m teaching a “July Experience” section in the lab this summer, and then making heavy use of the press in my classes in Fall ’19 and Spring ’20. This, of course, has been the goal all along; it’s time to get the #4 into rotation.
When I found this press, I was elated to discover that there were not one but two sets of inking assemblies–a standard set, and a split fountain.
Both obviously needed love, but I was excited at the prospect of experimentation with the split-fountain. Maybe to prolong that excitement, I started with the standard ink assembly (that, and I can already tell the rust and scale on the split fountain will be a bit more work than the decades-old ink on the standard).
After removing the oscillating cylinder and shaft, and dropping all the attendant parts into cups of Simple Green to soak in the meantime, I began to work on the rider-rollers with Simple Green and a Scotch Pad, and later steel wool, to break up the ink.
With the riders and the oscillating shaft cleaned to bare metal, it was time to work on the oscillating roller.
Working on the inking assembly made me wonder again why this press was pulled off the line and stashed in the barn where I found it. The metal in the rollers is all sound–it’s clear the only damage to them, like that to the press bed, came after the press was stored (and after the mice moved in and the grass grew through the wall of the barn and into the press cabinets…). In the case of the inking assembly, the ink actually deterred any rust formation. The split fountain is another story, of course. But I’ll tackle that when I get there.
The relative condition of the press makes me think that either the press was simply removed to make way for another more modern press (by the 80’s, Vandercook itself was out of business), or that something like the motor shorted one day, and the cord was cut and the press pushed out for a repair that never happened. Since the motor is missing, I’m wondering if the latter is what occurred. In any case, after I finish with the split fountain and reassemble the form rollers (new from Ramco), I’ll mount the new motor and get a little supervision when rewiring the press. A few more days, and then we’ll see what happens when we flip the switch…
The last time I was at the Crayton-Heritage plant, I was picking up the final odds and ends of our retrieval. Before I left, I was invited by proprietor Duane Juell to look through a galley rack that (if I remember correctly) he had moved as-is from its former location at Heritage Press. Out of a hundred-odd galley slots, most were given over to galleys full of leading. But there were some treasures, too. There were a good 35 – 50 galleys with type specimens set and waiting–that is, demonstrations of what Heritage was able to print with either their hot-metal (Ludlow, Linotype) or foundry type, prepped for the next prospective customer to ask “What’s Bembo look like?” With no “drop-down” menus, that was how clients selected a typeface–and who knows when you might need a type-sample. There were a few odd standing forms (mostly job-work: time-sheets, mailers, etc.). There were half-a-dozen galleys of copper dies for printing “mill script” (more on this in another post). I found one galley full of Hebrew in what looks like 36-point, which I retrieved for some future use. And I found a remarkable galley combining both Linotype slugs and some foundry type. The galley was preserved with some bent leads and some die-cutting rubber securing the form in the galley.
As I looked at it in the galley, I realized I needed to bring this home, too. I asked Duane, and after he reviewed what I’d found, he gave the OK. It was a simple piece, but meaningful to me: under the title “Source for Type” and with the italicized phrase “A Well-Kept Secret…That Needs to Be Told!” was a form celebrating and advertising the hot-metal and foundry capabilities of Heritage Press.
There were several testimonials from various university and trade presses, and a long body of text extolling the aesthetic virtues of printing from metal type. Aside from the house-specific information (dates for the beginning of Heritage, former and current clients, etc.), the celebration of the craft itself was resonant. I made sure to preserve the form as it was, and when I headed back north to Davidson, this rode in the front of the truck with me. For the past few weeks, I’ve been keeping an eye on the form as it sat on top of a type cabinet. Today, with some black ink already on the press, and some free time, I decided to move the form onto the press and run a few copies.
It was an interesting experience. There’s a large negative space that seems to have been designed for the insertion of a cut (but of what, I don’t know). And the phrase “Source for Type” had been letterspaced and had come loose. But the rest of the form was still pretty well composed. As I took a pair of tweezers and nosed a lead into place here and there, I was quietly moved (quietly, because I had students in the lab with me, composing type elsewhere) that here I was in 2019 gently re-aligning a form that had been cast in hot metal and composed by hand who knows how many years or decades prior.
Heritage was incorporated into Crayton-Heritage in the early aughts, and no telling how long before that Heritage had felt the need to run off an advertisement of their own capabilities and expertise. After a few leads had been re-aligned, and a single 18-point quad added to the form around the letter-spaced foundry type at the top, I gently planed the form and then tripped the press to ink the type. With no work-ups or other abnormalities, I returned the ink carriage to the feed-table, inspected the form again, and then fed a single sheet of canary-yellow paper (up-cycled from the campus Print Shop) into the press. As the press cycled through the stroke, I was strangely moved–again–by the copy that wrapped around the cylinder at the end of the stroke. It’s a simple advertisement, but here it is, printed from the relief form that had been haphazardly locked up with bent leads and stored in a galley rack (itself moved whole-cloth by forklift) years, decades, ago.
Like the salt-packets, pencil nubs, razor blades and (yes) cigarette ash that I find in the California cases, it’s a testament to the craft and the people who worked at these presses and cases. As I tell students over and over (and over) again, imagine turning on a computer from 10 years ago–let alone 20, 30, even 40 years–and expecting it not only to work, but to produce beautiful copy.
It’s a simple piece, but it will be framed and hung on the wall of the lab at some point soon, and another copy sent down to Crayton-Heritage. I may try to find an appropriate cut to fill the negative space. And, I may print a sort of colophon condensing the provenance of this piece into a pithy, identifiable few lines. It seems clear that there was more that needed to be done to the form, but at the same time, there’s a work-a-day matter-of-factness to it as it is that, to me, is really compelling. While this can’t really be conveyed in a lecture or lesson or workshop, that infra-thin relationship between our fingers as we set and print today, and those half a century back (whose owners, I’m sure, are no longer living) is what continues to compel me into the shop.
Several student-groups from Dr. Randy Ingram’s “Early British Literature and Media” returned to the lab in early April to plan and execute a “re-mediation” of a text from the time-period. Earlier in the semester, the entire class (all 23 of them!) visited the lab for a full week to typeset and print a decidedly anachronistic text: “Alphabet Aerobics” by Blackalicious. The goals with that project were three-fold: first, to consider the features of oral literature (abecedaria and mnemonic devices, for example); second, to consider the overlaps and departures between oral literature and print (“Alphabet Aerobics” is in fact an “unstable” text, and we worked between and across multiple versions to produce our own, ossified in print); and third, to gain insights into the specific technologies of moveable type and letterpress printing. Each student set a full couplet (many memorized theirs in the process!); and by the end of the week, we were able to print the full broadsheet–our typefaces, by the way, run the gamut, from Goudy Text (imitating Gutenberg’s blackletter) through Bodoni and Bodoni Shaded on into Gill Sans and lovely mid-twentieth century faces like Brush Script.
Some in the class decided to return for the end-of-semester “re-mediation” project. One student group is printing an edition of Queen Elizabeth’s poetry (which circulated in manuscript only, and was only published posthumously). That edition will be altered by group members and the public. Interested to see what happens…
Another student group is producing an extract from Milton’s Areopagitica.
As always, with lots of perspectives and questions in the lab, I’m the one learning the most! These items will be presented, along with the groups’ description of their process, at the Verna Miller Case Symposium. I can’t wait to see how the work evolves between now and then.