Better Places to Learn about Letterpress Printing

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1. Books

It may be the 21st century, but if you're going to print with type on paper you ought to start by reading actual books.

Maravelas, Paul. Letterpress Printing: A Manual for Modern Fine Press Printers. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 2005 and London: The British Library, 2005.

This book is excellent. It's also up-to-date and, importantly, in print. You could buy it from any bookseller, but why not buy it from one of the suppliers who sustain the letterpress community, such as NA Graphics?

Polk, Ralph W. The Practice of Printing. Peoria, IL: The Manual Arts Press, 1926, 1937, 1945.

Of the many printers' manuals which appeared in the early Twentieth century, this seems to be one of the most frequently recommended. It is no longer being reprinted (as I write this in late 2008), but can still be found secondhand. All editions are still in copyright.

Polk, Ralph W. and Harry L. Gage. A Composition Manual. Washington, DC and/or Chicago, IL: Printing Industries of America, Inc., 1953. (Reprinted 1965)

This book seems rarely to be mentioned, but deserves to be known better. If Polk's 1926 Practice of Printing is still the standard, then this is Polk after 27 more years of experience, plus Gage and the backing of a major organization. It was written just as phototypesetting began to appear, and so represents a summation of best practices for metal composition.

Cleeton, Glen U. and Charles W. Pitkin. General Printing. Third Edition. Bloomington, IL: McKnight and McKnight Publishing Company, 1963.

This is also frequently cited. The first edition was 1941 and the second 1953. Raymond L. Cornwell revised the third edition. There appears to be a reprint or print-on-demand edition that is relatively common now. The original editions through the 1963 Third Edition are, to the best of my research, in the public domain. It has been reprinted, with a new introduction by David S. Rose, by Matt Kelsey's Liber Apertus Press (ISBN 0-9785881-4-2).

Henry, Frank S. Printing for School and Shop. NY: John Wiley & Sons, 1917

This is another good early Twentieth century manual. I haven't heard it recommended as often as Polk, but it has the advantage of being out of copyright and available freely online via Google Books

2. Community

3. Online Introductions and General Resources

4. A Few Commercial Suppliers

The list above is for general letterpress resources and type for handsetting, not for hot metal (Linotype, etc.) resources. For those, please see my Linotype and Intertype Linecaster Resources Notebook. (I don't really have much in the way of Monotype, Ludlow, or Elrod resources yet; some of the Linotype/Intertype resources overlap them, though.)

Also (for both letterpress and to some extent hot metal), if you can, attend the Midwest and Great Northern Printers' Fair, held annually in Mount Pleasant, Iowa. They're not very good about announcing/advertising it, so keep an eye on the Briar Press or on the site of their host location, the Midwest Old Threshers.

5. More Books

Wilson, Adrian. The Design of Books. (1967) San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1993. (Forward to the 1993 edition by Sumner Stone.)

This introduces the entire scope of book making and design, and is itself beautifully designed (a good sign).

Gaskell, Philip. A New Introduction to Bibliography. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972. (Also later revisions.)

I overlooked this book initially, as it doesn't have "How to Print" (or the like) anywhere in the title, and as to an American educated in the late 20th century "bibliography" is just a synonym for "list of references." To a bibliographer such as Gaskell, however, "bibliography" is literally that: the writing about books, so as to describe them as completely as possible. This requires a comprehensive knowledge of all aspects of type, paper, printing, binding, etc. Gaskell's treatment the most complete description of the book as a physical object of which I am presently aware. (See, though, James Mosley's blog for his analysis of errors in Gaskell's illustration of a type mold.) It goes well beyond what I need, at least, as an amateur printer, but everything in it is good to know.

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