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.


Copyright © 2003 Michael & Winifred Bixler
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