‘Extreme Typography’ from Sheaff Ephemera.

m150by Richard Sheaff.
During the Victorian era, there was an explosion of elaborate typefaces, as foundries outdid themselves to keep up with the demand from printers for novel, splashy type.
The number and variety of imaginative typefaces generated from, say, 1870 to 1900 is astonishing. Many of them—most would agree—went too far, as type designers strove for innovation above all.
Many period fonts are difficult to decipher; some are virtually unreadable.
Wood type letter “E” from an advertisement in the October 20, 1883 issue of the newspaper, Weekly Drug News and American Pharmacist.
Engraved trade card ( Sheaff collection)
But those foundry offerings are not what concerns me here. Rather, I’ve been digging through the shoeboxes looking for examples of quirky, radical, idiosyncratic type usages, constructions (mostly) built by hand.
I’m looking at examples of extreme typography prior to 1900 or so . . . rather than at (equally interesting) later things like Russian Constructivism, Haight-Ashbury or Herb Lubalin.
Here, too, will be found some examples of type-only design solutions.
Guess what English language letter is intended by the red initial cap above (no, it is not in Yiddish)?
Read more via Extreme Typography | Sheaff : ephemera.

The Nebitype, the Hot Metal Typesetter from Hell.

1967t01The Year was 1968. I was completing my composing apprenticeship with the Griffin Press, Marion Road, Netley.
My foreman was Alf Freeman, a bald Englishman who had come from England to originally work at the Government Printing Office.
Alf had left after a couple of years for the Griffin.
There I met Nick Penn, Colin Rawlings, Rod Baker, Ted Powell, Ken Simpson, Doug Long and Norm Morcombe all who went on to work at the Old Guv from the 1970s onwards.
However, the point of this tale is to get you to look at the above typecating machine, the Nebitype.
It was made by the Nebiolo Company of Italy. The Nebitype was a line casting typesetter that spewed a single lead printing slug around 40 picas in length.
It was vaguely similar to the Ludlow Typesetter.
But there the similarity ended, unlike the Nebitype the Ludlow was a very reliable American typesetting machine.
But there was a problem with the Nebitype during its casting cycle and I suspected there was something up when the tradesmen refused to work it.
It was left up to the apprentices, especially the new ones, like me!
The Nebitype had a mind of its own and would often spray molten lead into the air.
Luckily, there was a comp. called Ken Costello (a ballroom dancing champion) who showed me the Nebitype survival plan.
You would place the setting stick in the jaws of the machine and then everyone would scatter.
Ken Costello had a rope tied to the casting handle and the other apprentices would hide behind a typesetting frame for safety.

Meanwhile, Ken would wave a red warning flag to keep people away.
Before hiding you tugged the rope, uttered a short prayer and the machine would shudder into action.
Did it work properly this time? Was the floor covered with molten lead?
It certainly made life interesting in the Griffin Press comp. room.

Making a Handmade Book from a Lump of Lead.

Robert Macfarlane on how a sunken lane inspired a handmade book, Holloway 
An alchemical question: how do you make a book from a lump of lead?  A year ago, I couldn’t have told you. Now I know the answer.
I know because I was fortunate enough to become friends with an artist called Stanley Donwood, a letterpress printer called Richard Lawrence and a young writer called Dan Richards.
Together, we decided to self-publish a slender book called Holloway from first principles.
The first principle being a lump of lead. In short, it worked like this: we melted the lead to cast the hot metal type to set the text to crank the press to print the pages to make the book.
The process was labour-intensive, silvery and arcane. Arcane, because few people still set hot metal type these days. Silvery because lead melts at 327.5C, 
And labour-intensive, because every step takes many hours of painstaking effort.
A small book about those old ways, then, to be made in the old ways: raw lead, fresh type, hand-press.

This was where Richard Lawrence’s expertise was invaluable, as making type is fiendish work. You use a large finger-disc keyboard to punch holes in a paper tape about five inches wide.
The text is “input-blind”; the person doing it has only their memory to tell them where they have reached in the text, and whether they’ve made a mistake.  All you have to show for hours of wary key-punching is a roll of perforated white paper. That roll is what then instructs the casting machine (in this case a 1955 Monotype caster), which uses brass dies to impress the typeforms on the molten lead.
The font Richard and Stanley chose for the type was Plantin, named after the printer Christophe Plantin, first cut in 1913 and based on a face cut in the 16th century by Robert Granjon.

Christophe Plantin was an intellectual with a nose for business. Shortly before 1550 he moved from France to Antwerp. Five years later, he started his own printing works.
Once the type was cast, it had to be set letter by letter into the presses: a 1965 Heidelberg Platen press and a 1970 Vandercook proofing press.
Big, old, heavy, hardy machines: workhorses made not to break. Stanley took photographs of his line illustrations, which were converted into etched magnesium plates.
Then the plates and the type were inked, thick wove paper was bought, the 48 pages were printed, sewn up and limp-bound, and lo! – the lump of lead had become a book. Or 277 books, to be precise.
Read the Complete article via Making a book from a lump of lead | Books | The Guardian

John Baskerville, Type Designer.

Born 1706–Died 1775, English type designer and printer.
He and Caslon were the two great type designers of the 18th century in England.
He began his work as printer and publisher in 1757 and in 1758 became printer to the University of Cambridge.
Baskerville’s first volume was a quarto edition of Vergil. His type faces introduced the modern, pseudoclassical style, with level serifs and with emphasis on the contrast of light and heavy lines.
This style influenced designers in France and that of Bodoni in Italy.
Books printed by Baskerville are typically large, with wide margins, made with excellent paper and ink. His masterpiece was a folio Bible, published in 1763.
After his death his wife operated the press until 1777.
Then most of his types were purchased by Beaumarchais and were used in his 70-volume edition of Voltaire.
The matrices, long lost, were rediscovered and in 1953 were presented to Cambridge University Press.
Among Baskerville’s publications in the British Museum are Aesop’s Fables (1761), the Bible (1763), and the works of Horace (1770).

Cyril Barson, ‘The Clown’.

On a few occasions I was guilty of taking the Piss out of Cyril Baron. But most times, I was completely innocent. Many times I would be setting away in my frame busily working.
Frank Lock would say, “Cyril, Warren’s making faces at You again!” Cyril would storm over to my frame and say, “Stop, making faces at me.”
“Fuck off!” I would answer. Then, there’d be an almighty blue between the two of us! Locky would chuckle to himself…
The best gag I did was to have a cartoon caricature of Cyril drawn. Then I got Burke Stone to make a printing block and Geoff Clarke printed a thousand copies off for me.
For the next 6 months these pictures would pop up on the notice board, on the ceiling, outside Cyril’s window and dangling from the Jobbing Room window.
Deep down I’m positive Cyril loved being the centre of all this attention. Cyril and his mate Sid Ball loved their Mother England.
When Ray Illingworth’s Mob looked like they would lose the final Cricket test in Sydney and the Ashes series, both Cyril and Sid worked out in the back room. We were told to “Keep Out.”
When England got up and Won they both came roaring back to the Comp Room arm in arm and singing “There will Always be an England” and quoting their beloved hero Winston Churchill.
Those were the days my friend!
Cyril had the Honour of being the only retiring compositor to be carried at shoulder height through the Netley Comp Room on his last working day!

Little George, our own ‘Teddy Tear Arse.’


First of all, let me say that the gentleman above is not George Goodman. Little George looked similar but was shorter of stature and had huge hands.

He was also a real Teddy Tear Arse. He worked on the Bills staff. He started at The Guv when he was about 63 years old. He literally ran while he worked.

The only person on the Bills staff who had anytime for George was Ivan who would steal time from Bills that George completed in half the allotted time.

Neville Gurr would wait out-of-sight in the passage with an 8 page forme. As George ran blindly around the corner he would crash into the forme.

If he showed any sign of going on the hand press all the Comps would rush in front of him and then take their time proofing their jobs.

One person (not me) loosened the quoins on his eight page forme. George in his haste never checked the forme and all the pages went crashing to the floor.

As he approached 65 years of age, he went to the Superintendent and asked to be kept on at work.

But, of course back then they wouldn’t allow it.

When George retired, it was slow and steady again on the Bills staff and Ivan had to work for a change.