Halftone Up

Along with the Czech types previously discussed here, a few blocks also arrived at the studio. Three wood engravings; one wood cut; and three small, engraved borders; and a larger copper halftone of a handpress. All had previously, in one way or another, been associated with Robert Reid in the 1950s and '60s, and it was immediately obvious that at least one of the engravings was by his frequent collaborator George Kuthan, and probably the three borders as well.More about those in a day or two...
It being one of the hottest weeks of our summer, we decided now would be a good time to seal off the studio and pull some proofs. The surprise came with the first impression of the halftone: it wasn't a good impression, and some unremovable crud had grown on the plate, but clearly legible along the top of the press's staple were the words "First printing press in BC brought by Bishop Demers". That rang loud bells.

Pulling down a copy of Robert's first book, The Fraser Mines Vindicated (1949), and looking toward the back, there was the press. He'd included a photo of it in the book because it was the press upon which Fraser Mines (the first book* printed in B.C., in 1858) had been printed. And locked into the HM Washington was the same halftone he'd used 60+ years ago! (Only now it was actually being printed with a handpress; Bob used a treadle-powered C&P back then.)

The photo in Bob's book was gave us a clear idea of what to shoot for, so we spent a few hours building up the darks and tearing away the lights in the makeready (the first proof is shown above left; the last at right). HM's BFF David Clifford loves to talk about his time as a journeyman printer in France in the 1960s - "bloody great four-color forms they were, advertisements with loads of halftones that had to be made just right" - and the time and care it took getting the images to print properly. Yack yack yack. Printing this little halftone on our carefully dampened paper equals all of that. And all of the lost detail is due to the block's age. No doubt about it.

* Yes yes, it has come to light that Fraser Mines' pioneering claim is not strictly accurate: there was a book of legislative rules issued a few weeks earlier, but as Bob would say, it wasn't a proper book: Fraser Mines was.