Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Retro printers embracing the laserjet, heh.

Today I was sent a link to a cheering article about letterpress, via the artbooks discussion list (worth subscribing to, if you have an interest; you get all sorts of news about artists' books in Australia).

Of course, it's an article about letterpress in the United States, where there are mouthwatering presses everywhere and type and plates can be found at yard sales and in junk stores. Here in Australia it is possible to find bits of letterpress equipment and type, but only rarely, and it usually costs a bomb.

Unfortunately most of Australia's old type has been enterprisingly melted down for scrap or made into sculptures. Mind you, it seems that there are a lot of interesting letterpress bits and pieces sitting around in the garages and sheds of many offset printers of a certain generation, so if you're interested, keep your eyes peeled and never pass up the chance to talk to aging commercial printers. I certainly take the conversational plunge as often as I can, but be warned -- you may have to sit through a lot of gumph to get to the treasure! I have discovered a few Canberra troves that have possessive printery gargoyles sitting on top of them, but I'm a lot younger, and in the words of the immortal bard, we'll see who rusts first.

By the way, I love the fact that the article in question is all about the pleasures of using metal type, yet the photo on the first page shows a printer printing from a polymer plate, which is UV-cast in plastic from a photographic negative and usually set from a computer file! Heh. It's the little ironies in life that keep me jolly.

And while I'm here (and I'll be contacting her in person about this), a rousing GOOD LUCK to Girlprinter, who is living the dream and overcome obstacles of the heart to celebrate the opening of her Press yesterday in Melbourne. I'm ashamed that I didn't mention this beforehand, and I hope it went swimmingly. We need more of this in the Antipodes, and she is now my virtual rolemodel until I can get south and make her a real one. May the smell of wet ink linger in the air for many years to come.


Anonymous said...

D & I went to Girlprinter's studio opening last night - amazing space, amazing collection of equipment, amazing endeavour: we even got a demonstration, so now I have some idea what you have been on about all this time (and I have renewed respect for your trip back to Canberra with letterpress stuff in the back of the ute last April.)

Ezra said...

While I certainly can't complain of any lack of letterpress equipment now that I have learned some places to look, you may be romanticizing the availability of equipment in the States. You may see what looks like lots of stuff, but per capita, I'm not sure it is. (I don't have statistics, but the letterpress community still feels like a very very small subculture to me. )

Much of it here is also hidden in the sheds of the same generation of aging commercial printers.

And plenty of equipment has gone and continues to go to the scrap heap. Last Christmas, my wife's uncle, who used to own a print shop, was telling me about how he sold tons of lead as scrap when he sold his business. Hearing about some of the stuff he had, I almost cried. Of course, how would I have gotten some of that stuff the 450 miles from Pennsylvania to Massachusetts? That's another thing to consider: while perhaps not as sparsely populated as Australia, it is still pretty geographically huge, and presses are hard to transport. You may see 5 great presses for sale on Briar Press, but none of them will be within 1000 miles.

Ezra said...

Of course, this is not to discourage you from paying a visit as a letterpress tourist to this great printing utopia someday. :)

Ben.H said...

Ah, I still remember visiting a large printing company on a school trip, and watching a guy working the letterpress machine. I still have the lead slug with my name set in type, that he ran off for me.

That's the trouble with edumacation these days: they don't let kids play with molten lead anymore! Put Etaoin Shrdlu back into schoolbooks!