A Visit With Jim Rimmer (Pt. 1)

HM’s checklist of books issued by Jim Rimmer’s Pie Tree Press & Type Foundry will be ready for distribution next month. To coincide with publication  – and augment the checklist – the October post will feature images of his books (& variants). Before all that, this month’s post features links to sources about Jim and his work as a printer and type designer.

Many people know of Jim’s books but haven’t actually ever seen one. There are several reasons for this: some editions were small, 50 copies or less. Some editions where never fully issued, his enthusiasm to complete binding waning as sales stalled, which happened because like many private printers, he found self-promotion distasteful. HM’s book was sparked by the acquisition of 45 linocuts from two of his books, and some typographic cards he printed, a year or two after his death in 2010. I had no idea what to do with them, so they sat in a box, but over the years the idea of using his prints as an introduction to his private printing, for the people who’ve never seen the actual books, developed.
As an introduction, the HM book includes a four-page profile of Jim written by Will Rueter (the text is adapted from a longer piece published in Devil’s Artisan in 2003), which focuses primarily on his typographic work. The book also includes samples of the types Jim designed and cut in metal, but those are just a slice of his typographic output. A more comprehensive accounting can be seen on Luc Devroye’s site
Jim lived most of his life in New Westminster, a city jammed up against Vancouver. I first met him in Colophon Books when he was accompanying a younger colleague who was soliciting orders for a book he was publishing (see here for the story about that ill-fated adventure). Anyone getting involved with letterpress in Vancouver in the 1990s would have known Jim’s name, but I had been cautioned away from contacting him for help by someone who said he wasn’t interested in casting type for other people. It was the irascible Washington state printer Chris Stern (Grey Spider Press) who informed me, a few years later, in heated & no uncertain terms, that this was not true, and that I and everyone else in Vancouver did not appreciate the living legend who walked among us. So I called Jim and he said what he probably said to anyone who called asking for help: come on by. 

From about 2002 until his death, I would go out to Jim’s house once or twice a year. In 2003 he gave me a font of his 60-pt Duensing Titling type, and I thought it was the perfect size for a miniature book. He agreed to write a short preface and we published it that same year. He also cast a couple of drawers of Garamont (an odd face) for me that year, which I used for HM’s first book with Barbara Hodgson. Around that time we talked about him designing and cutting a proprietary face for HM, and setting me up with my own casting equipment. I didn’t have a particular sense of what my own type might look like, and I had no desire to play with molten alloys, so neither proposal came to anything. But talking with Jim about those kinds of things was always fun. 

Jim’s past book, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, was a tour de force of one person’s vision directing every aspect of design. He started by cutting in metal a 14-pt type, aptly named Hannibal, to set the text. He then created dozens of linocuts to illustrate the story, printed it all in a robust large quarto format, printed the binding papers with one of the elaborate printer’s ornament designs he was known for, and bound the copies. The only thing he didn’t do was make the paper. Here’s a link to an article from Parenthesis about the project, and here’s one from one of the local newspapers.  

Simon Fraser University’s retired head of special collections, Eric Swanick, has worked on an exhaustive checklist of items printed by Jim (most of his work was for others). It was first published in
Devil’s Artisan #66 (2010), followed by a supplement in #91 (2022). While at SFU he acquired a large archive of material by and about Jim (see here), including work from his early days as a freelance graphic designer (including a ’70s era logo for Heart). Eric’s 2012 discussion about Jim with Nigel Beale can be heard here

In 2006 Swanick and SFU Library organized a “Rimmerfest” to celebrate Jim and his work. A video of the evening, including the man himself, can be seen here. It captures his gentleness and humor, and the wide range of people he inspired and helped. 

Richard Kegler, founder of the digital foundry P22, made the documentary Making Faces about Jim in 2011. A review of the film can be found here.

The Boxcar Press blog posted three articles about/interviews with Jim, which can be found here

Jason Dewinetz’s Greenboathouse Press site includes this page about acquiring much of Jim’s casting equipment after his death. Jason has plans for his own Rimmer-related book in the next year or two.

Next month, some details of the HM book and images from the six books published by Pie Tree Press & Type Foundry.