When someone starts getting interested in letterpress and fine printing, they pretty soon become enamoured with the idea of printing on vellum. Much of the attraction is down to the mystique of vellum* – its cost and related scarcity, and its tactile qualities. Depending how much knowledge acolytes have acquired, they may also appreciate the difficulty of printing on vellum, and the sheer terror fear of wasting a skin with a bad impression.
One question I’ve never answered unequivocally is whether printers dampened vellum before printing, as they would (should) paper. Anyone familiar with vellum knows how it reacts to the slightest change in humidity, so I’m not sure how one would dampen a skin, or if it even helps the impression (as it greatly does with paper). Rummonds, our best contemporary resource for letterpress questions, offers just a page and a half on the subject, and gives most of that to the Kelmscott pressroom overseer: place a skin between (not very) damp blotters for 30 – 45 seconds immediately before printing. The chapter’s unspoken sentiment seems to be, you’re on your own, good luck.
Robert Baris’ Wind & Harlot Press issued a pamphlet on the subject in 1976 (25 copies, re-printed as a miniature in 1992, 23 copies), printing an exchange of letters between D.B. Updike and St. John Hornby in which the latter reported he printed his vellum dry.
I forgot to include one of Will Rueter’s publications in last month’s post about printing Bewick’s wood engravings: A Brief Description of His Method of Engraving on Wood, Taken from His Memoir, c.1827. Edition of 100 copies published in 1978, a single signature sewn in wraps. Not sure what the two blocks included are from, probably metal cuts, he’d have mentioned if they were original blocks. Beautifully printed on mulberry paper.