Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Itinerant Printer Revives a Printerly Tradition by Visiting the TBAS

Letterpress printer and book artist Chris Fritton turned the TBAS into his personal studio for a few days last week as part of his year-long project called “The Itinerant Printer.” Fritton is traveling the nation in part to renew the lost tradition of tramp printers—printers’ apprentices who left the Master Printer’s shop where they had learned the craft of printing to travel and see more of the world, finding work in other places and learning other printing techniques before opening their own print shops.

Taking advantage of Chris’s visit, two University of Tampa art classes stopped by the Studio to listen, watch, and print as they took part in informal presentations and demos. Chris explained the history of printing, showed the basic elements of letterpress printing and typecasting—having the students cast their own names on the Ludlow Typograph and print a class keepsake—as well as guiding them through his portfolio of prints and talking about his traveling “tramp printer” project.


Chris also set aside time to create and print some original letterpress works of his own. During his two-day visit, he designed, set up, and printed a three-color poster and two editions of two-color postcards to fulfill pledges that are part of his Indiegogo online fundraising campaign. Visitors were invited to stop by, talk with him, and see him at work during an Open Studio on Monday afternoon.

Chris officially began his Itinerant Printer tour, which is projected to take him to 48 states, the last week of January in the Miami area, making the Tampa Book Arts Studio only his third stop, following IS Projects (Ft. Lauderdale) and the Jaffe Center for Book Arts at FAU Libraries (Boca Raton). While in the West Central Florida area, Chris also visited the Letterpress and Book Arts Center at Ringling College in Sarasota and The Southern Letterpress in St. Petersburg before moving north to the Florida panhandle and Georgia.

More information about the Itinerant Printer project and a schedule of the tour can be found on the project website,

Thanks to Chris Fritton (The Itinerant Printer) for his visit, and to Ina Kaur,
Jono Vaughn, the UT Art Department, the Dept. of English and Writing, Writers at
the University, and the College of Arts and Letters for sponsoring The Itinerant Printer.

Friday, February 13, 2015

A Celebration of Companion Old Style

The Tampa Book Arts Studio completed January 2015 by beginning its year-long celebration of the 150th anniversary of the birth of the great American type-designer and printer Frederic Goudy—a party capped-off by casting type from the only surviving matrices for his unique Companion Old Style types. The event centered around a talk given by Richard Mathews, Director of the TBAS, who described the impetus for the creation of the face, its design, and the history of the use of the typeface. Mathews, drawing from a large volume of research, including materials from our own Tampa Book Arts Studio Library Collections, began by discussing Goudy’s early life and his development as a type designer, moving into a discussion of Goudy’s first types and into the commission Goudy accepted in 1927 to create a new typeface for the Woman's Home Companion magazine. Mathews pointed out unique elements of the typeface itself and discussed the face in context with Goudy’s other types and ornament designs. The talk ended with the story of how amateur printer and type enthusiast Les Feller discovered the Companion Monotype matrices during the liquidation of Monsen Typographers in Chicago, and how the Companion matrices found their home at the TBAS.

As part of the event, two films were played on a loop that could be viewed whenever convenient by those who attended.  The first was a 2014 video interview with Les Feller, describing his discovery and rescue of the Companion matrices (click on video at right to play). Paired with it was The Design to The Print by Frederic W. Goudy, a silent film from the 1930s that enables the viewer to look over the shoulder of Goudy as he shows his process for creating a new type, from first drawings, to engraving the matrices, to casting the type.


Following the talk, the crowd moved from the classroom into the Studio where there were opportunities to ask questions of the associates, learn more about Goudy, and to see a demonstration of typecasting from the original mats on a Monotype Sorts Caster, which produces individual pieces of type just as Goudy did in his foundry. Designs by Goudy, enlarged photographs of Fred and Bertha Goudy, and enlarged, signed proofs were displayed, together with items from the TBAS collections, including original copies of Goudy’s type publication Ars Typographica, original copies of Woman's Home Companion, and the first book to be set entirely in Companion, Water Colors, published in 1979 by Konglomerati Press. Notable items of the display were a grouping of facsimiles of Goudy’s first, dated proofs of three sizes of Companion (courtesy of the Cary Collection at RIT), photographs of Goudy's home and studio at Deepdene, and a printed sample of Companion known to be hand-set by Berthaoverlaid over a photo of her setting type in a composing stick.


Casting on our Monotype “Orphan Annie” Sorts Caster from the Companion matrices themselves, TBAS Associate Joshua Steward demonstrated how Goudy’s original engraved Companion mats would have been used to cast type for hand-setting and printing. The 36-point Companion Italic capital “G”s that were cast on the machine as part of the demonstration were handed out as small tokens to take home for those who attended.


At the Studio’s Vandercook 4 printing press, Richard Mathews assisted attendees to print their own keepsake designed for the occasion and handset in 36-point, 18-point, and 12-point Companion roman and italic types. The broadside included decorative Bruce Rogers ornaments also cast on the Monotype. The broadside design will serve as the basis for a more elaborate limited-edition keepsake for a portfolio of tributes being assembled by the Rochester Institute of Technology as part of their 150th Anniversary of Goudy.

Thanks to those who attended the event and special appreciation to
Rich Hopkins for his Monotype typecasting advice and support

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A “Lost” Goudy Type Becomes Our New Companion

Goudy’s Companion Old Style Comes to the TBAS

A sample setting of Companion Old Style
arranged by Richard L. Hopkins
       A rare and virtually unknown typeface designed by the acclaimed American type designer Frederic Goudy now has a new home here at the University of Tampa. Thanks to a David Delo Research grant and the generosity of the Lester Feller Family, the only known surviving mats for Goudy’s Companion Old Style type have become jewels in the crown of the Feller Family Collections at the Tampa Book Arts Studio.
* * *
     Richard Mathews, Dana Professor of English and Writing at the University of Tampa, and Director of the TBAS, received a David Delo Research grant from the University of Tampa to acquire, document, cast, and write about Goudy’s little-known type, Companion Old Style.  As part of the grant he will give a talk on the history and discovery of the mats at the Tampa Book Arts Studio on January 31, 2015, where he will explain the background and design of the roman and italic fonts and demonstrate their casting on the Studio’s antique Monotype “Orphan Annie” caster.

     The brass Monotype matrices arrived in sixteen battered plastic cases, each containing a complete roman or italic alphabet. They are the masters for casting an exceedingly rare private typeface, never made commercially available. Commissioned in 1927 by Henry B. Quinan, Art Director for the Woman’s Home Companion magazine, the type was designed for exclusive use in the magazine, which had a national circulation of more than four million in the 1930s. Goudy worked on the project for several years, during which time he taught himself how to engrave the mats, developing his own tools for cutting the shape of each letter, number, and punctuation symbol into a flat brass matrix designed for use on the Monotype casting machine. The finished types first appeared in the The Woman’s Home Companion for June, 1931. In the end, not only did he make the patterns for each letter, but he also cut each of the mats himself. The mats today include 12-, 14-, 16-, 18-, 21-, 24-, 36-, and 42-point sizes in roman and italic.

How Companion Made Its Way to the TBAS

     The mats were discovered and saved by Lester Feller in 1976 when the equipment of Monsen Typographers of Chicago was being liquidated. Feller, an amateur printer and type enthusiast who founded and operated the Twin Quills Press in Niles, Illinois, and later established the Printer’s Row Printing Museum in Chicago, collected antique types and cuts throughout the 1960s and 1970s for his serious letterpress hobby that he pursued from home base in a crowded garageAt the liquidation Les noticed the unidentified mats in custom Monsen Typographers plastic boxes with the Monotype number 359 identification, a number he was not familiar with, and he took a few mats out of the case to see if he could recognize the face. Though he couldn’t identify the type, he thought the slant of the letter “o” was interesting and he noticed that the old style numerals had a certain flair, and so decided to buy the mats without knowing what they were.

* * *

     Les later showed a one-line printed setting of the word “Companion” to Rich Hopkins at a meeting of hobby printers, the Almagamated Printers Association Wayzgoose in Indiana in 1977, still not knowing what he had. Printers often saved scraps and type samples from job work that could show what a typeface looked like, and Les thought that “Companion” might be a word from a headline or ad to show the type. It certainly didn’t strike him as the name of a type, let alone being a type designed by Frederic Goudy. He had unsuccessfully looked through Monotype lists in various catalogs and specimen books, but he had not been able to find number 359. Hopkins was also intrigued, and turned to his own extensive references, including two different typeface encyclopedias, but the mats were not listed in any of the usual sources.  Rich remained on the chase, following various clues that eventually included that one-line sample word, and he was able to identify the mats as Companion Old Style, an exclusive, private type commissioned by the art director of the Woman’s Home Companion, and used exclusively by the magazine.

* * *

     In 1979 Rich Hopkins wrote the whole story of the discovery and identification of the type in a beautifully printed issue of his Typographic Curiosities, set in Companion types cast from the mats that Feller had loaned especially for the booklet. Dr. Richard Mathews, who was directing the Konglomerati Florida Foundation for Literature and Book Arts at that time, knew Rich through the American Typecasting Fellowship and soon heard about the Companion discovery. He contacted Les and was able to arrange to have enough of the type cast to complete the first book ever issued in the private typeface: a collection of poetry by Ohio poet Hale Chatfield entitled Water Colors. Published in 1979, it was typeset by hand in Companion, letterpress printed, and hand bound at Konglomerati Press, with partial funding by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

     Feller and Mathews had lost touch over the years since then, but as the Tampa Book Arts Studio was first taking shape a decade ago, they made contact again. Les and his wife, Elaine, were spending winters in Florida, and they arranged to stop at the University of Tampa to see the new setup.  Presses, type, and typecasting equipment from Konglomerati had been supplemented by donations from others, and the growing collection reminded Les of what they had hoped to do with the Printer’s Row Printing Museum: inform and inspire others with an appreciation of the history and the desire to keep the equipment in use.
Future Legacy of Companion at the Tampa Book Arts Studio

Les Feller speaking about his 1979
discovery of the Companion mats
     Les and Elaine established the Feller Family Collections as part of the special collections library of the Tampa Book Arts Studio. They have contributed hundreds of original antique printer’s blocks from the early twentieth century children’s books published by the Donohue Company of Chicago, antique letterpress models, displays of wood-engraving processes, hundreds of printed books and pamphlets on letterpress printing, and a collection of antique letterpress posters and broadsides from the seventeenth through the nineteenth century. Many of these are framed, and now hang permanently in the TBAS.
* * *

     Today the Companion Old Style types will form a unique living legacy as the highlight of the Feller Family Collections, offering a very special opportunity for students to handle a private typeface found nowhere else in the world. Faculty and students together will explore new ways of utilizing this distinctive and nearly lost typeface by America’s best-known and most prolific type designer.  Here it will be cast sparingly and used for special projects. Most importantly it will offer students a hands-on experience with history. In the process, they will also contribute to history and scholarship themselves as they find ways to feature and reveal the possibilities for expression that this virtually unknown typeface holds.

Frederic Goudy wrote of Companion in his book A Half Century of Type Design and Typography 
“Companion Old Style and its italics show greater consistent
original features than any other face I have ever made.”

The Tampa Book Arts Studio is thrilled to be the permanent home for this extraordinary type.

Friday, October 24, 2014

TBAS Letterpress Coordinator Visits Lead Graffiti in Delaware

Jill Cypher and Ray Nichols in the Lead Graffiti studio, Newark, Delaware.
      When Tampa Book Arts Studio Letterpress Coordinator Carl Mario Nudi headed North last month to visit relatives and friends, he was happy to see that his road trip would take him near Newark, Delaware, where the creative letterpress studio Lead Graffiti is located. Jill Cypher and Ray Nichols, the studio’s owners, greeted our “itinerate inquirer of all things letterpress” with gracious and overwhelming hospitality. 
      Lead Graffiti not only produces unique and innovative books, broadsides, and other book arts pieces, but Jill and Ray, and Ray’s son, Tray, also do commercial letterpress commissions. They work with traditional materials in surprising and contemporary ways. Their studio resources include a variety of traditional wood and foundry types, supplemented by new and wonderful wood type that they have designed and manufactured entirely in-house.
An example of the wood type made at Lead Graffiti.
      During Carl’s visit, Jill and Ray generously took the time to show him around and explain some of their techniques.  They also presented him with some inspiring samples of their work to share with the TBAS associates. One of the most interesting broadsides is from the 2014 series of their “Tour de Lead Graffiti” project. The sample print they sent back to Tampa is one of twenty-one posters interpreting the stages of this year’s Tour de France bicycle race held in July in France and nearby European countries.

Some of this year’s posters from Tour de Lead Graffiti.

      Each day during the Tour de France, Jill, Ray, and a team of collaborators watched television coverage of the race and related activities to soak up the atmosphere, and to catch some of the memorable commentary, interviews, and incidents. They would then go to lunch and discuss how to translate and interpret their impressions into a poster using wood and metal types, decorative elements, and colored inks on a 14.5” x 22.5” sheet. What is immediately obvious about this project is the spontaneity that the finished work communicates. Even the composition and lockup were done directly on the bed of their Vandercook press without preparation.
 Bringing the Tour to TBAS.

      The posters are limited editions—this year being the fourth in their yearly series—and copies of many of them remain available for purchase. Check out Lead Graffiti’s web site to see more of the series, along with some of the other great stuff they are doing:

Monday, August 11, 2014

Summer Project: Proofing Antique Donohue Blocks from the Feller Family Collections

Carl Mario Nudi, at the Vandercook 4 in the background, has already completed more than two hundred proofs.

One of the most interesting projects this summer has been the proofing of our complete holdings of antique blocks from the M. A. Donohue & Company of Chicago.  The blocks are just one component of the Les Feller Family Collections now at the Tampa Book Arts Studio. Letterpress Coordinator Carl Mario Nudi is leading the effort, with help from Joshua Steward, Caitlin Carty, and others. The project involves unwrapping each block, cleaning away at least the first layers of accumulated ink, dust, and dirt with the help of brushes, toothbrushes, and a variety of solvents, and pulling a proof.
One cover block after cleaning, ready to be inked and proofed.

Carl Mario Nudi pulls a proof from the block.
When the project is finished, the studio will have two complete notebooks of proofs that will serve as a catalog of all the blocks in the Feller Family Collections. Donor Lee Harrer and others are already busy locating actual books to match the plates, and this week Carl found a copy of The Natural History ABC.  His copy of the complete book arrived just after he had finished proofing that set of blocks. But, as is often the case with Donohue Company books, the interior and exterior blocks are not always paired consistently from printing to printing. The inside blocks in the case of Natural History are completely different in this physical copy from the blocks held in our collection. This appears to be a standard practice of the company, which supplied young children with interesting and inexpensive books. Donohue & Co. evidently reprinted quickly to replenish stocks, and they appear to have been happy to swap around the texts, as long as they made sense. The outside covers are identical, and both our blocks and the printed book are identified as Series No. 120.
The printed cover, together with our first proof of the black block, which still needs makeready.
Most of the interior blocks in our collection include the signature of the illustrator, Constance White; however, the interior pages in the printed copy are by multiple illustrators—W. A. Cranston, Stanley Berkeley, and Harrison Weir—and they show a range of dates from 1873-1890.  Neither the printed copy nor the set of blocks is dated, though our blocks appear to have been made sometime between 1900 and 1920.

With summer nearly over, there is still a great deal of proofing to be done to complete the project, but each printing session brings fresh discoveries and delightful surprises.  We are looking forward to knowing much more about the full archive—which includes well over four hundred blocks—and about the Donohue Company by summer's end.

Joshua Steward proofs another sheet on the Vandercook 4.

Friday, August 1, 2014

TBAS Library Highlights: Rare Book from American Printer Isaiah Thomas

A battered, heavily worn leather binding from the nineteenth century conceals one of the gems of the Tampa Book Arts Studio Library Collections: the Columbian Dictionary of the English Language published in 1800 by the great American printer and patriot Isaiah Thomas in partnership with his friend and fellow publisher Ebenezer T. Andrews.

Our copy is a gift from our collections chief, J. B. Dobkin, and is one of only nine surviving copies that we have been able to locate in libraries throughout the world. Dobkin describes it as "extremely rare."   Our copy is inscribed with the name of John Lesslie, who lived with his wife, Polly Hyde, in Plymouth, Vermont.

The book was compiled by Yale-educated Massachusetts teacher Caleb Alexander and includes “many new words peculiar to the United States, and many words of general use not found in any other English Dictionary.”  The elaborate title page also states that “the whole is calculated to assist foreigners in acquiring a just pronunciation of the English language, and to be used as a school book by any who wish to study the language grammatically.”

Isaiah Thomas was born in Boston in 1749 and in his youth was apprenticed to a printer.  He is widely known for his publication of the famous eighteenth-century newspaper named the Massachusetts Spy, which he established just about the time he turned twenty-one. In it he championed American Patriot politics from 1770 to 1776 and the outbreak of the Revolutionary War.  Thomas also printed and published the New England Almanac (1775-1803), published many other important books, established a paper mill, and wrote and published the first comprehensive printing history in the U.S.,  The History of Printing in America (1808).

Thursday, July 3, 2014

One of our favorite things

So many gems are tucked away in the Tampa Book Arts Studio library that it’s difficult to choose one to inaugurate this series of posts about the “best” of the collection. We plan to feature one item, or a related group of items, regularly on this blog, so check back often and see what we've brought out to delight you. Since there are nearly 8,000 items in the collection, it will be a long time before we run out of the “best” of what we have to share.

     We decided to begin the series with the copy of An Essay on Typography that came to us as part of Lee Harrer's generous donation. This first edition was published in June 1931 in an edition of 500 copies. Eric Gill (1882-1940) not only wrote and illustrated the book, he also printed it by hand, with his son-in-law, Rene Hague. This book exemplifies Gill’s versatility. His great talents complemented one another in the fields of sculpture, type design, writing, illustration, engraving, and printing, and he made this book at a high point in his career, having just completed the design of Gill Sans types and finished a major sculptural commission for reliefs on the headquarters building overlooking St. James's Park for the Underground Electric Railways Company of London, which was awarded a London Architectural Medal in 1931 from the Royal Institute of British Architects.
    Gill first trained to be an architect, but gave it up after meeting and studying with the renowned calligrapher Edward Johnston. After that meeting, he became interested in calligraphy and the cutting of letters in stone, and the art of sculpture generally. His work exemplifies the Art Deco style and unashamedly portrays human sexuality and the body. He and his wife moved to Ditchling in Sussex, England, in 1903, where he founded the Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic after World War I. The Guild and the workshops he established later were communities of craftsmen that put into practice the anti-industrial ideas that Gill propounded in essays on art and the modern world.
     His career took a new turn after Stanley Morison, the type designer most famous for the ubiquitous Times New Roman, invited Gill to design new type faces for the Monotype Corporation. The results of their collaboration include Perpetua, Gill Sans, and Joanna. American type designer Beatrice Warde was also employed at Monotype when Gill was working for them, and was inspired by Gill’s Perpetua type to write her famous broadside titled "This Is a Printing Office." (Warde was also the model for his woodcut of a female nude called “La Belle Sauvage.”) The Joanna type was specifically designed for Gill’s own press, and he used it to set An Essay on Typography. The year 1931 also marked the publication of Gill's masterpiece in the field of book design: The Four Gospels, published by the Golden Cockerel Press.