Folks, it has been an interesting time in my world of commercial print. General overhead and cost of doing business is going way up, print runs have been going way down. The customer base at my workplace Stumptown Printers is still going strong, the commercial work that we do is always fun and challenging, but the name of the game in the industry are clicks on the press, and the clicks aren't what they used to be. Gone are the days of 15,000 "limited edition" custom paper-based CD packages. Low clicks and high costs aren't a good recipe for a "mom and pop" commercial job shop. We're hanging in there, riding it out as long as we can, and also adjusting our vision for a future of "analog" ink-on-paper classic printing.
Honestly, while I'm worried about our business and my livelihood, I have more concern for the music biz as a whole, and especially how decreased sales of physical music releases have impacted aspiring independent musicians. Man. Without sales of affordable music media*, it's tough for the small independent artist to make enough scratch to cover the expenses of tour, etc. Really, I don't know how "the kids" do it these days, and I hope that the tradition of hopping in a beat-up van with your bandmates to tour and share music, build community, have an adventure, and learn a thing or two about life is still viable. Gotta give those musicians love, folks. Please support them, 'cause it is getting tough to be a troubadour. And the troubadours make the world a better place.
Back to print. There is a silver lining to a lean commercial production schedule: I've had time to plant myself in the Linotype chair and work on creating composition for printing that is outside the scope of Stumptown Printers’ normal “job work.” It has been an absolute thrill to bond with the machine again. Really, I can't believe that a dirt-bag-commercial printer like myself has the opportunity to operate such a thing of beauty — a thing that in my mind stands as a monument to the machine era, the poetic balance of human hand, human touch, human ingenuity and power of cast iron, steel and brass driven by motors and flywheels. The Linotype machine is art and industry and everything in-between, and... it still works. It is still telling its story. Imagine that. My machine is from 1946. It has been through a lot. A lot of operators. A lot of news. A lot of celebration. A lot of death. A lot of all of it. And while it needs attention and repairs, it still dutifully creates beautiful type. Some of which has never been digitized, has never seen a computer. And all of which looks a heckuva lot more beautiful and much more of this world than its digital counterpart. It is a gorgeous thing.
I can count myself among a relatively small handful of folks who have the honor to be the custodians of these wonderful hot metal type composition machines, and as such, it is my goal to keep this one in good working order and casting nice type beyond my time at its keyboard. Just as the operators before me have done. That's the idea. And that goal can't be accomplished if the machine is idle. It is happiest when it is doing what it was designed to do: cast type.
So let’s do it! Time to cast.
Below is a list of projects that I’ll be working on while I have the extra time to sit behind the Linotype keyboard. I'm sharing these projects with you to put a little extra pressure on myself to see these projects through to the inking stage. Thank you for being an unsuspecting accomplice.
- The Horsenecks "Fiddlehead" CD cover. Printed exclusively from Linotype Composition. Additional info here.
- Lino-Lager beer labels, coasters, and ephemera. Yes! A beer to honor the Linotype and its inventor: Ottmar Mergenthaler (I’ll be handling the printing and Linotype, not the beer-making)
- Composition for a series of mesostic poems for artist, mentor and good friend Barbara Tetenbaum.
- Mother Foucault's Bookshop monthly calendar of events (See post here)
- 12"x12" broadside subscription series
- An artist book for my buddy Mark Owens. I cast this type years ago, but haven’t finished it. Time to dust it off and put some ink to the forms.
- Linotype Matrix Slide Being. 3rd in a series of 6. (Previous prints can be viewed here and here)
- Composition for “The Point” a small publication put together by the C.C. Stern Type Foundry Crew.
- Linotype Matrix slide inventory and notecards. Over the years I’ve acquired a fair amount of border Matrix slides. Many of them have not been identified or inventoried, so I hope to print a limited selection of note cards using the border matrix slides as I’m identifying and organizing them.
If you are in the neighborhood of Stumptown Printers, stop on by to see the progress of the projects listed above. You'll find me behind the Linotype keyboard.
* Yes, vinyl. I know. Sales are up on vinyl. I love it. There's nothing like building a relationship and appreciation for a band or artist when listening to a record. It's the way to do it. Also, as a printer, the larger format of a 12" record offers opportunity to lay down some fancy ink and artwork. That's all good. But it takes some serious coin to release a vinyl record, and it's a serious pain to haul records around on tour.
Quote from Bohumil Hrabal's book "Too Loud a Solitude" cast and printed during C.C. Stern Type Foundry open hours. Type cast on the foundry's 1948 Linotype Model 31. The colophon pictured above provides additional details. I believe that a couple of these prints are still available, ask for one the next time that you visit C.C. Stern Type Foundry.
Mail call. Love it. I received this treasure recently from my new Linotype buddy Rubén Brizuela of Editorial Martín Fierro in Mendoza, Argentina. It's a key chain from "Allegretta," a former parts supplier for Linotype, Intertype, Ludlow and Elrod machines. It was given to Rubén's father for being a loyal customer. Rubén is now responsible for keeping the machines running at his Father's shop. You can see his work here.
Recasting a line from a Joe Green poem that will hopefully find its way on press soon. I originally cast this on a free weekend about a year ago, but job work took over and the poem was tucked away on a quiet galley. Now that the weather has cooled and nights have become chilly, the poem “House Warming” has been on my mind. Time to ink up! Today I found that the word spacing was a little tight on one of the lines – about a year ago I was excited to learn a trick which allows single position Linotype display mats to run on a duplex display mold. Must have been more focused on the trick than on the word spacing. So, fixed!
Recent project at the C.C. Stern Type Foundry: Run mats out of the magazine, proof and inventory, clean mats, clean magazine. This proof is of Excelsior 11 ^ 120. We’re short on the lower case “r.” There are only 2. That will be a problem. Hopefully they’re hiding out in a sorts drawer somewhere. Also, after going through about a pig’s worth of metal while casting this, the slug consistently was rough on the right side. This problem persists even after having replaced the mouthpiece and sawing out the throat. The mouthpiece heater is probably on its last legs. For now, I’ll add em spaces to avoid the edge of the slug, but will certainly have to revisit this issue in the future.
Metromedium No 2 (14^198, 14^186) - has been on my mind. I’ve been having fun casting and printing it. It is bold yet holds a distinct grace and plays well with ink. It prints nicely. And at 14pt, it’s an smooth runner on the machine. Initially I found the appearance of the figures “5” “0” to be a little striking (see pic) - I had suspected that sorts belonging to another version of the typeface had errantly found their way into the magazine. But no, the font number was confirmed and matched. I think it’s a nice feature - the lighter stroke of these figures add a “pulse” to surrounding text which teases the eye along the page. I’m also happy that this particular font includes the “special No 1” cap W, which was not the standard cap "W" redesigned for "Metro No. 2." As I understand, the "special No 1" sorts reflect Dwiggins’ original Metro drawings. (However, a third version of the cap "W" was also offered as an option as indicated in the Linotype's "Big Red" spec book, so don't quote me on that) More info about the evolution of Metro can be found in this excellent article by Paul Shaw. Anyway, the mats are in good shape, the sidewalls are sound and I’m tickled to cast and print from them. Here’s another example of the typeface used in recent piece set in all caps.
The broadside / poster pictured was printed to promote an upcoming film screening and panel discussion sponsored by the C.C. Stern Type Foundry. Foundry volunteers cast the type used on the poster, Jeff Shay cast that gorgeous cutting of Garamond (48pt, 24pt, 18pt) on his Ludlow at Buzzworm Studios (after proofing these slugs, I went down a Robert Hunter Middleton internet rabbit hole - to be explored later. Hopefully Jeff will be my guide, because it looks like I could get lost real fast. Amazing stuff there…), Rebecca Gilbert cast decorative ornaments on the monotype sorts caster at the C.C. Stern Type Foundry, and I cast the above mentioned Metromedium No 2 and smaller sizes of Garamond using the Linotype at Stumptown Printers. Rebecca then masterfully handled the press work at Stumptown Printers. The poster was a good excuse for a collaborative hot-metal project. Nice work, team!
If you’re in Portland, please come to the event.
Pressing On: The Letterpress Film
Tuesday, September 19th
Clinton Street Theater
2522 SE Clinton Street
Portland, OR 97202
Linotype Alumilite Magazines Shall not be trusted. This is the second one that has failed on me. No fun. The brass bottom magazines are quite heavy to haul around, but those suckers are solid. I haven't experienced this issue with the heavier magazines.