There can be few more delightful ways of spending a Saturday than in the print workshop at the St Bride’s Foundation just off Fleet Street. St Bride’s includes not only the print workshop, but also a museum of design and print; a theatre; a library (as well as a disused swimming pool). A day spent learning the letterpress printing process is a reminder of a time when print was made of lead and every action had to be carefully callibrated and calculated. To set the scene, here are pictures of two of the printing presses.
My time was spent with the rather more modest Adana machine which is designed to produce letterpress printing at about A6. The process of getting from type to print is difficult, demanding and very enjoyable. This is the Adana. In this case blue ink is being applied to the ink plate. However, first some illustrations of the process of putting together the type.
This box contains a selection of individual letters all made of lead together with ‘leads’, the strips of lead applied between each row of type which leads to the current term leading to refer to the space between lines of print. Individual letters are selected and then placed in reverse order and with a mirror image into a callibrated tray.
Each line of type is assembled and held together loosely by the leading. A frame made of steel is then placed around the line of type. Blocks of metal are then inserted until the line of type is strongly bolted into place.
This is then placed in the Adana and following the inking of the ink pad, a single sheet of paper is inserted and printed.
The result can be seen below.
The process was delicate, produced modest results but was very satisfying. As the excellent teacher pointed out, mistakes were allowed and encouraged and could all be corrected. There was no need to be concerned with software failures or printers that did not work, every action could be observed, understood and used. Here are some of the wood typefaces just waiting to be used.