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History of Lettering Monotype Composition caster printing Thoughts on lettering typography

In honour of a decade: number 5

Two years ago I posted about a film describing the Monotype works.

Monotype composition caster
Monotype composition caster

This photo is of the caster I owned in the 1990s, working from a workshop in Bromley, Kent, UK. I have written about my exploits here.

To finish off this tribute to hot metal follow this link to another video showing the machine in action and sounding wonderful.

Categories
Monotype Composition caster printing presses Thoughts on lettering typography

Beeches Press: the history

It’s a long time now but once I ran what was called a ‘private’ or ‘fine’ press. I was publisher and printer.

Here’s my story.

Short history of the Beeches Press

Why the Beeches Press?

I started the Beeches Press as a teenager, when I was about 16 from memory. At that time [early 1970s] I was living with my parents in Carshalton Beeches, a small town about 40 minutes by train from Victoria Station, London. I bought an Adana desktop, [8×5] through the wonderful Exchange and Mart [a weekly printed on newsprint full of ads for all manner of things] and a very limited amount of type, consisting of Times. I have a recollection of buying the equipment locally then strapping the lot to some sort of rack over the back wheel of my bike. But that might just be memory playing tricks. It was most probably delivered.

Searching for a name for the press I selected where I lived and engraved a tree [though whether or not it resembles a beech I do not know] on a random piece of wood, which I used as a ‘device’ on my first publication – grandiloquently titled A Manifesto. I was a radical school student at the time, taking Sociology A level and very much into Marx!

Part I –  A Manifesto, 1970s

 This first manifestation of the press in Carshalton Beeches left little to posterity. I have a copy of the Manifesto [printed in black and red] and I seem to recall printing Coleridge’s Kubla Kahn [I was also taking an English A level] but, thankfully, that seems to have been lost.

Beeches Press Manifesto
Beeches Press MAnifesto

The press work on the Manifesto was appalling, though the intentions were laudable: A private press will have four objectives: the press will print limited numbers of fine texts; an excellant [sic] but discriminate type face will be used; the press will print on high quality and, if possible, hand made paper; and finally, the press will ensure that the best bindings are tooled, I wrote. Nevertheless, this was all hand-set and printed on the Adana; a nice touch being a layer of tissue paper overlaying the example of Donne’s Holy Sonnets.

Beeches Press Holy Sonnets
Holy Sonnets by John Donne

Part II – High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, early 1980s

The original press was discontinued around the time I was completing my A levels (18 years old) in 1975 and didn’t get going again until 1980, by which time I was living in High Wycombe (having started a degree in English at Newcastle University), working as a reporter on the town’s weekly broadsheet, The Bucks Free Press. I bought, with considerable financial assistance from my dad, a new build terrace house near West Wycombe. It was on a small estate backing on to the grounds of the Dashwood estate; in fact, the little garden backed on to the estate itself, a flint wall being the boundary. The house at Portway Drive had three bedrooms, one tiny which I converted into a printing room. My diary records that I purchased one machine in January [of this I can’t recall] and then on 11 July drove to Kenilworth, near Coventry, to collect a Furnival guillotine and a Cropper Carlton treadle press. As with the Adana, I think these would have been advertised in the Exchange and Mart, since in these pre-internet years this weekly magazine was like today’s Gumtree or eBay, and had a comprehensive section of printing machinery for sale. I bought it every week and followed up on various leads – it was through E&M that I would later find the Monotype.

One other thing I remember about West Wycombe was the local rector, Michael Staines, I think of St Paul’s Church, had a vast collection of printing equipment and type housed on the first floor the Church Loft, an old building that fronted the A40/High Street. I recall going up there a couple of times but, much to my regret now, did not further access this source or find out any more about its history or function. Does it still exist? I have this entry dated 26 February 1983: See the vicar, Michael Staines, in the Church loft. He is printing. He has such a quantity of type. I hope he will buy the guillotine.

I also made friends with Harry Warschauer during this time through his wife, Judy, who worked at the Bucks Free Press. Harry, who had fled from Nazi Germany as a young boy, was an investigative reporter on the Sunday People [their house was alarmed after one expose´ led to death threats]; but I loved him for his eclectic book collection not for being a celebrated Fleet Street journo. He opened my mind to concrete poetry, Ian Hamilton Finlay and much else, and became my first ‘patron’ after my enthusiasm shifted from hot metal to letter carving on stone a decade later.

This re-incarnation of the Beeches Press was not very productive: some ephemera and a book of poems for a friend of Harry’s is all I can recall, hand-set in whatever metal type I had at the time. The only other item of mention was a card Harry and I produced (printed offset by a printer in High Wycombe) to commemorate the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana on 29 July 1981. The plan was to make some money and we had 10,000 printed thinking our fortune ensured. The card featured a typographic portrait of the pair done using Letraset Univers and was printed in purple on white glossy stock. Awful.  I have found one surviving example, tucked at the back of a photo album mum kept of my ‘life’, as well as a letter from the Lord Chamberlain’s Office, to whom one sent, very rightly, such things for the seal of approval. [The watermark is Original Turkey Mill Kent.]

Charles and Diana card 1981
Charles and Diana card

On the day of the wedding I went into central London with dad and brother Andrew trying to flog the cards to spectators. [Dad was a salesman and saw this as an opportunity to suck up a captive audience. We sold a few cards. 50p each, but I was stopped by police asking me what I had in the large bag I was carrying: I think they thought it might be explosives!] When Diana fell pregnant a year later I over-printed the remaining cards on my treadle with the slogan, Fast Breeder, [one of Harry’s inspirations] and we distributed these to like-minded anti-monarchists and those who opposed nuclear power! There were some bookshops in Charing Cross Road and elsewhere who actually stocked them.

In late 1982 my dad came up with the fancy of buying a newspaper on the Isle of Wight – The Isle of Wight Mercury. Why not? I was a journalist and also a printer, and dad could do the selling and finances. Simple. We went to Ventnor on a cold November morning, taking the ferry from Portsmouth, the departure delayed by an hour because of dense fog. I recall us sitting below deck on the return when the fog was even thicker and mum moaning that we would all perish because of the fog! I wrote in my diary: I heard my mother saying to my father, ‘There’s nothing you can do. Your number has to come up some day and if it comes up well, that’s it. It will come up sooner or later. There’s nothing you can do about it’. We all survived but the project went no further.

The Cropper treadle was sold in 1982 ‘for £200, to a lady living in London. Sold the beautiful beast because of a few debts, mainly mortgage…’ I write in my diary on 23 October. It was at this time I was seeking to return to university to study archaeology and anthropology so I was downsizing. (I matriculated at Fitzwilliam, Cambridge in October 1983, graduating in 1986 with first class honours in Achaeology and Aathropology.) These plans may well have had something to do with dad’s crazy idea for the Isle of Wight – a not so subtle hint in an effort to sway me from giving up a regular job, a mortgage and a future in order to return to uni and uncertainty and penury for three years. I was stubborn and did my own thing.

Part III – Bromley, late 1980s to early 1990s

Two false starts. Now for the real thing. It’s 1988. I’m a full-time journalist at the Financial Times, then at Bracken House, 10 Canon Street, near St Paul’s. [A year later the paper moved to One Southwark Bridge and by a strange quirk of fate is due to return to its former HQ in 2018.] I have bought a small terrace house in Brockley, near Lewisham, and a beige coloured and battered  MGB GT [registration VMD 733G]. Life is good. In April I follow up on an advert placed in the Exchange and Mart for a 1960s built Monotype caster and keyboard once operated by Cox and Wyman in Fakenham, Norfolk. It is priced at £350 and owned by a printer in that town who is selling off his letterpress. My paternal grandmother died in December 1987 and I am left a small legacy. This I use to make the purchase, which includes five matrices: Bembo, Fournier, Times, Gill and Univers.

Earlier in the same year I also acquire an Albion hand press. I can’t exactly recall now how this came about, the diary relates that in February I was put in touch with someone who had the machine through a mutual friend. It was not complete, a ‘few pieces missing but should be quite serviceable,’ I write with the enthusiasm of the amateur. [I never did get it going, and I’ve no idea where it went. I did do a fair bit of research, however, visiting similar machines in Oxford and at the Kelmscott Museum in Chiswick. My press was manufactured the executors of Cope and is illustrated in Moran’s Printing Presses. I also saw a man named Chris Holladay at his workshop in Frederick Terrace, Hackney. He sold me a filial and gave me detailed drawings of other missing parts. He also guided me to the Slade where he thought there was a machine similar to mine. It was dated 1830.]

On 4 May 1988 I visit the Monotype headquarters at Redhill. I see Duncan Avery, the Sales Support Manager, ML Division, who provides me with the details of Ernie Devonshire. On 27 May I pick up the Monotype equipment from Norfolk – I have to hire a driver and lorry. This I do before starting my night shift at the FT! The Monotype caster is stored for the time being at my friend’s factory unit in Staines as I do not yet have a workshop. The keyboard and some other items I store in an outside shed at the house in Brockley.

In August 1988, I lay my hands on a proofing press. This from the Journal: ‘A chance browse through Artists Newsletter in Dillons, Long Acre, led me to Goldsmiths (just down the road @ New Cross) which had advertised a proofing press – a Western with a 30” wide bed. Saw it Thursday, meeting Colin Aggett who explained that the printing workshop was closing down…The Beeches Press is reborn!’

At the end of the year I write: ‘It is a delight, it is wonderful, to have the workshop. I consider how lucky I am to have come across Ernie just at the right time and for all the elements of my project to fall neatly into place. There is much to learn, a great deal, but I feel that I am moving forward. Next year must be consolidation as this year has been assembling the parts of the jigsaw and moving machinery from place to place. But I now have the equipment to do whatever I care to do and The Beeches Press is reborn and a private press is born and like a little demigod I [am] in charge.’

Brief Chronology from 1988

1988

May: Monotype Caster, keyboard and five fonts (Bembo, Fournier, Times, Gill and Univers) purchased for £350 from a printer in Norfolk.

May: Visit Monotype headquarters in Redhill and given name of Ernie Devonshire, a retired former Monotype engineer who lives in Bromley, Kent.

June: Visit Ernie and negotiate space in his workshop. Ernie also offers me lessons on how to operate the keyboard and caster. I pay £20 a week in rent.

July: Purchase some equipment from Financial Times which is closing its works at Bracken House – includes trolley used to move large chases, furniture and other sundries.

August: Western Proofing Press purchased from Goldsmith’s College, Deptford for £75. [I am living in Brockley, near Lewisham.] I have to hire a specialist removal firm, the same Chris Holliday of Modbury Engineering,  as the press is on the third or fourth floor.

September: Research Coryate’s Crudities at British Library, having heard a talk on radio earlier in the year about Thomas Coryate. Decide to use the section on Venice for first publication by the Press. Decide to use Bembo for text. In the same month visit the Whittington Press.

November: Set-up and print a specimen sheet for The Beeches Press, to use as publicity poster. Send this out to those who I think may be interested in the venture. [I purchase paper from John Purcell of Brixton.]

1989

February: Complete Prospectus for Coryate’s Venice.

April: Print Prospectus.

June: Put in touch with artist Gwyn Roberts through Goldsmith’s College and I commission Gwyn to do linoprints for Coryate. Contact the Libanus Press regarding Greek sorts needed for Coryate.

July: Start printing – this being the third day of the third Ashes Test.

September: First proof of lino cuts by Gwyn arrive.

October: Back at British Library to commence research on possible second publication by Press: George Farquhar’s Adventures in Covent Garden.

November: Title page of Coryate printed.

December: First trial binding completed. Edition runs to XXXX copies. Some are boxed.

1990

January: Bertram Rota Booksellers in Covent Garden agree to stock a few Coryate’s; orders come in for others.

August: On the Flying Scotsman printed in an edition of 100, including a printer’s hat. This is a reprint of Eric Gill’s essay originally published in the London and North Eastern Railway Magazine, vol. 23 no. 1, dated January 1933. Published to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Gill’s death.

October: Exhibit at first Oxford Fine Print Bookfair.

A prospectus is issued on the intention to publish a book on the artist Betty Swanwick, who died in 1989, to be called A Singular Vision.  The work was never completed. I had been collaborating on this with my friend Philip Garner who knew Swanwick and would write the text.

1991

Little work at the workshop and nothing printed: I married Marian in October this year after a short betrothal.

1992

I extend my studies in calligraphy and letter carving in stone. In November I take leave from the FT [long service leave of about 5 weeks] and spend part of that time in the studio of Richard Kindersley, Camberwell.

August: Take a one week residential course in letter carving under Tom Perkins at West Dean.

1993

August: Visit to see John Skelton, nephew of Gill’s, at his workshop at Blabers Mead, Streat. He is holding an exhibition to celebrate his 70th.  I take a one week letter carving course at his workshop in 1994. [John Skelton died in November 1999. I attend his memorial service held at Chichester Cathedral, 24 June 2000.]

August: Make a video of the workshop at Piell’s Yard with Marian’s assistance. [This has now been converted to DVD.]

1994

April: Visit David Kindersley at his workshop in Cambridge on the 24th. [DK died on 2 February 1995 and I attend his memorial service held at St James’ Church, Piccadilly, on 2 October.]

1998

Last recorded entry of visiting the printing workshop is made on 1st November. I have no date for sale of the machinery but guess it may have been 1999.

Aside from wedding invitations [ours in 1991] and some other ephemera I printed nothing of consequence after On the Flying Scotsman.

The Beeches Press was, therefore, dormant from 1991 until machinery sold in or about 1999.

Categories
Monotype Composition caster

The Monotype Corporation: a film from the 1950s

On the same site as the film about Linotype [PrintingFilms.com] comes this showing the Monotype Corporation in its heyday. It describes the journey to Salfords,

Monotype factory from the air
From ‘Monotype’ Machines in the Making [undated, ?mid-1960s]
near Redhill, then takes you in to the works, more a town than a factory. I love the scene of the brass band playing, the sense of order and calm attention to detail. [Scroll down to Newest Additions…]

The Monotype Corporation

Also check out The Museum of Printing

And as an aside, I too have my own film recently digitised about The Beeches Press, including footage of the Caster I then owned in action. One day I too will get around to uploading it to the web.

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Monotype Composition caster

Answer to Christmas Quiz 2015

No, the Quiz 2015 did not show an organ. I quite simply do not understand how no one got that this is an illustration of the Monotype Keyboard piston block. Wasn’t it obvious. Shame on you! Taken from the essential Book of Parts, dated 9/56. [Better luck next year.]

Monotype Keyboard Monotype Keyboard Piston Block

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History of Lettering Monotype Composition caster

History of the Monotype Corporation

For UK readers and those nearby – There will be a book launch on Thursday 13 November 2014 from 6pm at St Bride’s.

Go to http://vanbrughpress.com/events/

(The following images from my own archive.)

Monotype in the making_0001Monotype in the making

Monotype in the making_0002

Categories
lettering Monotype Composition caster printing

Something ornamental for the weekend

From December 1958, a Monotype broadsheet (440mm x 570mm). Composed on a caster no doubt. (For more on ornamental type see this post.) For more Monotype posters see here.

Ornamental type face

Categories
Monotype Composition caster Thoughts on lettering

The mighty, the magnificent, the marvellous one and only Monotype Composition Caster

Possibly my longest blog title ever. Richly deserved. I can’t believe it is over a year since I last posted on the Monotype (see here and here) and all that time I have been meaning to write more. Well, the other day I had a post from a reader in South Australia who had stumbled on this potpourri and said he was restoring such a machine. (Thanks Ron for your kind words.) Here is a photo of my mighty Monotype taken in the UK in the late 1990s.