When looking at your own printing for eight hours every day, one can quickly lose perspective on issues like color, impression and consistency. While slogging through printing the text pages for Oddballs, we often turn to our small collection of handpress books for inspiration, confirmation, and solace. Eric Gill provided one of our favorite quotes about the challenges of inking and printing entirely by hand:
"The press and method of inking, and sometimes the paper, which the craftsman uses are such that the colour of his work, at its best, is balanced on the very razor edge of accuracy. On either side his tools force on him a very slight margin, so that he is a tight-rope walker whose deliberate balance gives a different delight from that of the mechanical gyroscope."
Eric Gill, An Essay on Typography (p. 103)
And so, we thought we might share a few images and notes about the books that constitute our core reference library for printing with a handpress. First is Gabriel Rummonds' Printing On the Iron Handpress (Oak Knoll Press, 1998) which should be required reading for anyone interested in letterpress printing, including collectors. We know of no more comprehensive single resource for information about all stages of printing, from press set-up through design, paper selection, inking, right through to binding. While the detailed technical directions are based on using a handpress, much of the book's content is applicable no matter what kind of letterpress is being used. The book is broken into 33 chapters, essentially breaking down the printing of a book to the sequential steps; and each chapter then provides detailed directions, in addition to historical contexts and comparisons, and Rummonds' own comments and asides based on his decades of experience. Any beginning printer should gladly pay the book's price just for the chapter on recognizing (and thus diagnosing) the many different kinds of printing flaws one will encounter, each one illustrated with a photograph.
For gearheads who really want to delve into the arcana of handpress printing, Rummonds followed this work up with the two-volume Nineteenth Century Printing Practices & the Iron Handpress (Oak Knoll Press, 2004), which essentially compares, contrasts and explores details included in the major printing manuals upon which printers had relied at that time. But for most people - anyone interested in any aspect of the book arts - Printing On the Iron Handpress should be a standard reference. And don't just buy it; read it. Or at least skim through, which will inevitably lead you to drill down in the areas of most pertinence and interest. Be warned, however, that this could lead to an overwhelming desire to begin collecting Gabriel's own works from the Plain Wrapper Press and Ex Ophidia.
Next installment: Lewis Allen's Printing With the Handpress (& a discussion of why facsimiles just don't cut it for this kind of thing)