Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Future of the Past

Among the many directions AoaN sent me, it was above all an important step into the world of digital printing. Into the future. Technology at its best. Print on demand. Fast. Easy. State of the art.

Yesterday, I took an equally important step in the opposite direction. Into history. Indeed, back to the beginnings of modern communication technologies to the Gutenberg Press. Though part of our bigger plan, it happened as suddenly as bringing home a puppy from the Safeway parking lot, and the result is sitting behind me on the dining table. It's what makes life with Linda Sue such a delectible experience.

The Call of Semi-Luddism

We'd been thinking about getting into letterpress for some time, mainly for Linda Sue - it seemed a meaningful next step in her artistic path, given her background in printmaking - but I was also intrigued, wanting to take the classes she'd been exploring. So after a random search on CraigsList on Friday, Saturday morning we headed down to meet Jack and Karen in Albany. I usually feel apprehensive about meeting strangers in their home, partly because I feel like an intruder, partly because I feel like a captive audience to a life I might not want to see. But Jack's good nature was as clear as his bloodlines - he looked as though he'd been pulled from the pages of a Joyce novel (though his accent was definitely midwest). Their home was small and simple, almost bohemian, some original art, no TV, jazz playing on a boombox. I liked it all, but was ultimately won over by their MacIntosh Classic, sitting in mint condition next to a dot-matrix printer. "She uses it as her typewriter," Jack explained; "It's my word processor," she said.

Jack was relieved about Linda Sue's history in printmaking, more so that she'd taken a class at The San Francisco Center for the Book and was connected to Dauphine Press in Petaluma. He cared about future of the press he was selling, but I suspect he was also reluctant to send someone down the letterpress path unwittingly, a path he knew well. It had brought him a lifestyle that included an accumulation of inks, a vast array of typeface, job cases, quoins, leads, cutting tools and one more table top press than he needed. He was downsizing and decided to sell his Adana "Eight-Five".

Made in England in 1953, the Adana Eight-Five is a tabletop press, and like most of its kind, a beautiful machine in its simplicity. Jack took the time to tell us what he knew about it historically, gave us reference materials, and explained how each of its parts worked. He showed us some of the prints he created on it and pulled out his collection of dingbats, one of which was an old-style Union 76 logo, meaningful to me because my Dad worked there for over 30 years. "Oh. Well, take this as our gift to you," Jack said. We decided to buy a set of typeface, Garamond Bold Italics 12pt, and he threw in all the necessary materials - quoins, leading, furniture, chases, em leaders, an H.B. Rouse composing stick, and two unopened jars of ink - to start printing that night. Then he agreed to pose with the Adana.

He said he hoped to see us at the Book Arts and Printers Fair in April. I hope the same.

The World of the Exiguous

We weren't able to jump right in last night, nor today for that matter, if only because the task of organizing all the typefaces within their respective compartments in the California Job Case (that Jack also threw into the deal) takes forever and could cost us our eyesight.

Right now, Linda Sue is seated next to our new addition, sorting the "ff"s from the "ffe"s (the double letters arecalled ligature, I've learned) and chirping along with the music streaming from our iMac via iTunes to our Apple Airport that is hardwired to the Denon stereo. Not exactly the simplicity of a boombox, but we are streaming Hank Mobley.

Hang on to your hats and glasses. Here we go.


Blogger Marion said...

I found your blog while trying to find some more informations about the Adana eight-five...Have you already worked with it?

I definitely keep checking back to your blog...


January 21, 2007 8:18 AM  

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