Every now and then, out of the blue, I will get a text message at precisely 9:18. Usually in the evening, sometimes in the morning. It’s from my pal Paul Moxon. The message will simply say “918,” or if Paul is feeling particularly precise, it’ll say “9:18.” That’s it.
Paul knows Vandercook printing presses perhaps better than anyone out there these days, and when he writes me at 9:18, I know he is doing so with a wink and a smile, because printers know the significance of those three digits. And today we come to the granddaddy of 918s… it is 9/18, September 18: It is a day each year that letterpress printers hold dearly for it matches beautifully with .918, which is the standard height of type in the US and the UK. And since this blog, odd as it is, is written by a letterpress printer and book artist, it is a day held in high esteem here in this house for sure.
Last week I set a type forme on the 1890 Wesel Iron Handpress from historic wood types at the nearby Jaffe Center for Book Arts, and the print shop at the center will be open today welcoming anyone who would like to come print it. The message is adapted from some good advice delivered by the Cheshire Cat in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, which is one book featured in JCBA’s current exhibition called Scale: Proportion Play, exploring extremes of scale within the Jaffe Collection (largest book/smallest book, monumental prints/tiny prints, and other pairings along those lines).
So if you’re nearby, come see us at the Jaffe Center’s 9th Annual Letterpress Appreciation Day Open House. I’ll be there all day showing folks how to operate that lovely old printing press, as is my distinct pleasure… and, as usual, Convivio Bookworks is supplying the Italian cookies, too!
Seth Thompson and I are teaching a workshop this Saturday, too, in Downtown Lake Worth at Hatch 1121. It’s called “Calavera Prints” and it’s part of the festivities here leading up to Lake Worth’s annual celebration of Dia de Los Muertos in early November. The workshop is only $25 and it begins at 1 PM. In it, we’ll teach you the basics of linoleum cut printing with the goal of all of us making some festive calavera prints inspired by the historic prints of José Posada. To learn more, visit the Facebook event page, and to register, call (561) 493-2550.
Image: One of the proofs we pulled last week on the Wesel Iron Handpress for this year’s Letterpress Appreciation Day print. The types are all vintage but recent acquisitions. I’m more than a little in love with the the large font that we used to spell GO.
In closing, I learn an awful lot from all of you, too, and it was exactly three years ago today that Convivio Book of Days reader Gene Mahon offered the following commentary about printers and the 18th of September. It’s just the kind of detail I find so fascinating. Gene wrote, “You may be interested to know that here in the UK, 0.918 (of an inch, I believe) was exactly the height of a one shilling piece, an old unit of pre-decimal currency, when stood on edge. So a letterpress printer here, back in the day, would almost always have had, in his/her pocket, an instant means of checking the height of any block or piece of type should there be any doubt. Happy Letterpress Appreciation Day!”