Handpress Library #5 - Ward Ritchie's Laguna Verde

"I was sixty-seven years old in 1972 when I decided I would retire from the responsibilities of the firm I had started so modestly in a nook in the back of my family home forty years before...I had a dream of recovering those early pleasant experiences I had had in printing."

This is how Ward Ritchie recounted the genesis of Laguna Verde Imprenta, which culminated 16 years later with the publication of an eponymous bibliography tracing his work with an Albion handpress between 1975 and 1987. Anyone who has made the commitment to printing with a handpress will sympathize with his account in the book's foreword of the challenges he faced first in finding a press that he could afford, and then its precarious installation to his beach-side house.

The foreword also briefly repeats the well-known story of how Ritchie travelled to Paris in 1930 to learn the craft of printing at the atelier of Francois-Louis Schmied, where his apprenticeship included pulling proofs on a Stanhope-type press. When he returned to California in 1931, intent on establishing his own printing business, "my first purchase of equipment was a Washington hand press. I printed on it only one small book, John J. Slocum's schoolboy poem, "The Youth of Hamlet," before conceding that I'd have to have a more productive mechanical press if I hoped to survive as a printer." The Washington remained his tool for creating, through "trial and error" the title pages of books he designed. But it was another four decades years before he could return to the handpress, where he could be both "creator and designer" of what he printed, rather than just "a mere station on the assembly line."

Laguna Verde Imprenta is set in Goudy Thirty type, with various other types used in the display pages. The edition is 50 signed copies, uniformly bound in quarter red morocco with printed Nideggen papers over boards. Rather than sample pages, a brief bibliographic description and some comments for each project are accompanied by a resetting (i.e. reprinted) page from the book, usually on the spread's facing recto. 

As a sample of handpress printing, it's not great: the inking in much of the body text is weak and inconsistent. It appears Ritchie was not damping his paper, which is a shame since it's a lovely Barcham Green handmade that would have yielded wonderful results if dampened. In this matter Ritchie seems to have committed the common mistake of not fully appreciating the differences between printing with a handpress and commercial printing with a mechanized press. He writes in the foreword that his initial intent had been to use the handpress for "experimental printing," but that soon "the text became more important to me than the experimentations." Thus, the title and interior pages reproduced in the bibliography are immediately recognizable for the style that characterized Ritchie's justifiably renowned commercial career. They enjoy the additional benefit, however, of being like those trial title pages he pinned to his shop walls, the immediate expression of designs created by his hands on the bed of a press. 

Like Pepler's book, Ritchie's challenges with inking and impression don't lessen the joy of book. (Nor do the many inky thumbprints on the corners of leaves.) As Ritchie himself notes, his "fingers are not quite as agile now as they were when I was crowding only seventy and began this bizarre venture into hand press printing." Most of the Laguna Verde projects were on the scale of single-signature pamphlets; the bibliography is one of only two books issued in boards. His editions never topped 50 copies, "because longer runs on a hand press get wearisome and tedious and I choose to print only for fun." To that sentiment, we echo the "Halleluja!" with which Ritchie ended his bibliography.

More detailed accounts of Ritchie's introduction to printing, and his subsequent career as one of California's most influential printers, can be found in The Ward Ritchie Press and Anderson Ritchie & Simon (1961) and in Fine Printing - The Los Angeles Tradition (1987). Next installment, if all goes as hoped, will be Everson's Psalter.