What we did the night before Whittington

5 September 2010

We are great admirers of the Whittington Press, and it is always a privilege to take part in their open day. It has the refreshing effect of reminding us why we do what we do. We feel at home with their FAG proofing press, and it’s great to give visitors a chance to print something on it themselves. Last year we were making a lot of posters, so we designed one for the show and took the forme with us. This year we wanted to take something we had cast.

There were several jobs to cast on Friday, in two or three different sizes, and the most convenient order in which to do them was with the Whittington job last. It all went well, and by about 5 pm Nick had everything set up and ready to go. Then he was hit on the arm by a large splash of metal. There’s a a lot of cleaning up to do after a splash to get the machine to cast properly once more, often involving cleaning out the mould. Maybe it was the time of day, or maybe it was our inexperience, but we could not make any usable type after that. First metal was leaking from the join between the mould and the matrix. Then the sorts were falling over in the type channel. By about 6 Phil thought he’d better start hand setting the same copy as insurance. He finished correcting it at about the same time as Nick brought the caster into line and and finished casting, so we could take the machine set version with us. We didn’t get out of the workshop until 9.30, though.

And the copy? We used a short excerpt from Eric Gill’s Autobiography:

And lettering has this very great advantage over the other arts; at its very base, conjoined and inseparable, are the fair and the fit – most obviously useful and depending for its beauty upon nothing but man’s musical sense. The shapes of the letters do not derive their beauty from any sensual or sentimental reminiscence. No one can say that the o’s roundness appeals to us only because it is like that of an apple or of a girl’s breast or of the full moon. We like the circle because such liking is conatural to the human mind. And no one can say lettering is not a useful trade by which you can serve your fellow men and earn an honest living. Of what other trade or art are these things so palpably true? Moreover it is a precise art. You don’t draw an A and then stand back and say: there, that gives you a good idea of an A as seen through an autumn mist, or: that’s not a real A but gives you a good effect of one. Letters are things, not pictures of things.

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