an excerpt from
A Survey of American Typefounders
Our interest from the beginning, in Boston in 1973, was the design
and letterpress printing of limited editions. As an RIT student in
the late 1960's, I was inspired and encouraged by three friends, without
whom I would not have become a printer: the renowned printing historian
and author, Alexander Lawson; professor Archibald Provan; and Herbert
H. Johnson, former Knopf designer, Melbert Cary professor, and biographer-bibliographer
of Bruce Rogers. Also, I was fascinated by the work of Victor Hammer,
Saul Marks, Rocky Stinehour, and the Grabhorns.
However, in an effort to be realistic about earning a living in a
craft that most people wanted to forget, my wife Winnie and I realized
early that the cost and future of a small letterpress book shop lay
not in the purchase of excellent printing presses but in acquiring
the best Monotype machines made. The idea of buying composition from
others seemed too impractical and limiting.
So, in a youthful attempt to follow in the tradition of the great
printers, from Gutenberg to Mardersteig, I began by designing my own
typeface, matrices for which were engraved in Japan in 1967. I cast
full cases of 14 and 18 pt. Hermann Zapf liked my caps especially,
but after pulling only ten trial proofs, I knew that it was senseless
to try to design a better Centaur, Bembo, or Dante. Consequently,
in 1969 I began buying the composition and display matrices for these
faces from the Monotype Corporation in England. While friends indulged
in book collecting (and vacations), we spent borrowed money to buy
mats to make books. Throughout the 1970s and 80s we avoided buying
the commercial scrap being dumped by the trade typesetting houses,
and instead, concentrated on acquiring only the classic English Monotype
bookfaces. In addition to Dante, Bembo, and Centaur, we bought most
of the sizes of Walbaum, Van Dijck, Bell, Baskerville, Joanna, Gill
Sans, Garamond, Ehrhardt, and Fournier.
With three keyboards, three composition casters (8 to 18 pt.), one
Thompson, and two Supercasters (strip material and display type to
72 pt.), we cast type for our two Vandercooks and three Heidelbergs
(maximum sheet size 22 inches by 32 inches). We don't stock or sell
fonts but are pleased to quote on specific book projects requiring
Monotype composition, display lines, sorts, or repro proof.
To reduce and contain a growing overhead, we moved in 1983 to the
rural village of Skaneateles in central New York, near Syracuse. We
live over our shop in a two-story 1867 brick and stone mill building,
isolated on eight acres of woods; the former mill stream is home to
trout, ducks, and heron. Our four employees from the local community
are entirely trained by us. Work and proofs come and go daily by fax
and Federal Express. Metal is shipped via UPS or commercial truck,
coast to coast.
For twenty years we have witnessed and prospered from a growing
interest in our work. In the future we hope to couple our typesetting
and letterpress printing with the production of our own handmade paper.
- 30 -
This short essay was written by Michael Bixler for 'A Survey of
American Typefounders' that appeared in the Number 7, April 1993 issue
of Bookways, pages 25-30. The 1993 staff photograph above appeared
in the same issue on page 36. Reprinted here with the kind permission
of W. Thomas Taylor.