Type on Tintern Abbey

I print my books using hand set lead type in much the same manner that Gutenberg used over 500 years ago. I would say the similarities end there: he not only had to found his own type, but invent a way to do it to make composing his bible a viable exercise. All I had to do was email Ed at Swamp Press, as I have done every year or so over the past seven years, and order lead type.

My order is always the same: Italian Oldstyle in roman and italic. It arrives carefully packed in a crate, and the process could be likened to unpacking an Egyptian mummy. Here’s an order that came shortly after work on Tintern Abbey finished. There’s an outer shipping box, then packing material in and around the inner sarcophagus…. er, I mean type packets:

Italian Oldstyle type, 10 pt roman and italic in four packages. (Note rule and Olfa knive to the right for scale)

Excitement builds as the outer layer comes away to reveal:

Kind of like Carter opening up Tut’s tomb. Then, the moment of truth:

A body of type.

There’s a reason for all this extraordinary packing. Ed and I have found, over the years, that lead type packets crossing the great divide between the USA and Canada tend to be violated… er, examined by curious border authorities of both nationalities, I presume. After fatally disrupting the packaging, the authorities send my type back out into the postal stream unsealed! This has happened on two previous orders. This time I asked Ed to send it via UPS; it costs more, but my type arrived in perfect order.

Swamp Press sells monotype which is somewhat softer than foundry type; the latter is an alloy, but there’s not much foundry type being made anymore. Monotype is really meant to be used for a while, then ultimately melted down and recast again, with some always kept on hand in the cabinets for small jobs and corrections. Monotype is fine for my purposes; I’m doing mostly book work, and very limited press runs. However, my 12 point roman takes the brunt of the press, and has been used repeatedly now over the last six or seven years. And it’s starting to show in certain of the most frequently used letters: e, l, r, g, h, i, s,  and t. Hairlines, breaks, wear-out, broken serifs, worn tails and balls etc. I’m spending a lot more time at the proofing stage stooped over the press, tweezering out offenders, tossing them in the hell box and replacing them. The problem is that after the book is finished, and I’m with a collector or at a show perusing the book, that’s when I see the broken piece of type that I missed during production! It’s frustrating, but it is a risk when working with even gently used type. The older and more worn the type, the more vigilant the printer must be.

Swamp Press has an amazing library of monotype faces available. Check out their site here.

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One Comment on “Type on Tintern Abbey”

  1. Deb Says:

    Interesting!


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