Books that got me started
Typeface collection
Miscellaneous equipment
Printed Pieces
My oldest book

For the Prospective Printer

Other letterpress sites


The Kalamazoo YearsIn Vermont Until I Die

The Allston/Cambridge Years - 1970-1973
FAIRFAX PRESSwas started in the middle of one night in June of 1970 when I woke from a solid sleep, sat up in bed and said, "I'm going to learn to print." It is one of the more bizarre occurences in my life. The next day I attacked the Boston Yellow Pages and went to The Book Clearing House on Boylston Street. At the time I was an editorial assistant at a publisher of electronic trade magazines in Brookline. I had been fooling around with an IBM Compositor in the normal course of my work. A few years before this I had had a job in college (work-study) in which I reproduced anthropological drawings for use on an overhead projector. My trip to the bookstore netted me J. Ben Lieberman's book and the Yellow Pages put me in contact with a Mr. Distler at Craftsmen Machinery. I think Mr. Distler was thoroughly entertained by me. He was extremely helpful and handed me quoins and a quoin key. The quoins are still in the old wooden box he gave me. We were in a room with a lot of new equipment most of which was huge, but there were some new, small table top presses there as well. He gave me flyers on them--I remember the yellow one was about the Monarch printing press. Then he led me out into an enormous warehouse, must have covered at least one city block. It was dimly lit with the daylight seeping in through grimy windows high above a sea of type cabinets. We walked up and down the aisles and in this surfeit of unknown riches, not wanting to keep him there for the rest of his natural life, I selected two type cases with type. They were Californial job cases--one with 10pt Bernhard Modern Roman and the other with 12pt Shaded Old English; also an almost full set of Caslon initials. I paid him $35.50 for all of this (which at the time was more than half of my weekly paycheck). And, bursting with happiness and excitement, I proudly and carefully carried these treasures back to my Allston apartment via the MTA. I spent many hours with a can of Carbon tet, a toothbrush, and the Lieberman book. I cleaned every single piece of type, and then the cases, while devouring the book. This was the start of Fairfax Press. It has never become a big, or even very active press. I went on to become a production editor and graphic designer--led there by my love of the alphabet. My collection grew to about 70 founts, representing about 35 faces. The press has always been a pleasure, and a means to excercise my increasing knowledge of typefaces.

BY NOW, I was building the little press talked about in the Lieberman book. And, on the 27th of November, 1970, I bought my first tube of ink "E.D. Black" from Inmont Coroporation for $1.83 and on that date set my first type and pulled my first impression using a large green candle for a bearer roller.

27 November, 1970
Cambridge, Mass.

Then I set and printed a quote from my then and now favorite author:
I      t will go like this: can't be a craft of words, Am go-
       ing to disregard the title and talk about words:
why won't they let themselves be made a craft of. They tell
the truth: they aren't useful. That there should be two lan-
guages: fiction and fact. Words are inhuman . . .  won't
make money --- need privacy. Why. For their embraces, to
continue the race.
                                                                 Virginia Woolf

The type in the quote was justified with a Caslon initial "I" and set in the Bernhard Modern Roman.

THE NEXT PURCHASE was made from the "hell room" of Somerville Printing Co., Inc., Somerville, and consisted of about five dilapidated cases full of wood type. For this I paid $20. I quickly saw that I could use a rubber stamp pad with these and create designs easily on newsprint. I also, somewhere in here, acquired Herbert Spencer's book, Pioneers of Modern Typography which inspired me to play with the type. I ended up creating something which, several years later, helped to get me accepted into a graduate program in graphic design at Western Michigan University. However, at the time, I was just revelling in being able to press these large letters onto the paper and look at them.

AND NOW BEGAN my study of typefaces in earnest. I was preparing for the day I would have a real press. I was studying An Atlas of Typeforms and dreaming of a press, and Bembo, when I met Ed Stephens, of Samuel Stephens & Wickersham Quoin, High Street, Boston. Another wonderful and helpful person. On March 5, 1971, I bought a pound of 2pt lead from him for $.57 and a box of copper spaces for $.70. Over the next few months I bought from him a rawhide mallett, a used type-high gauge, proof planer, a 6" type forme planer, various quads and leads, and a 8" proof roller. In November of that year came my first purchase of new type: a cap font of 14pt Czarin Title, and a complete font of 18pt Graphic Light. These types were from Baltimore Type & Composition. He also gave me one of his catalogues, a beautifully printed and illustrated record of all things needed in a printing business. In the second half of 1971 I acquired a 40 case cabinet with one tier of cases missing. But, it had a working top, I also got a used padding press which was a beautiful thing with an ornate clamp. The cost for the lot was $25.75! During this time I also got a furniture cabinet about one-quarter full of furniture for $5.00. I was clearly approaching the time when I would have a workable shop. All of this was in the living room of my apartment in Cambridge. By the fall of 1971 I had desiged the logo for Fairfax Press and had a cut made. By now I had also acquired John Ryder's Printing for Pleasure, still the finest book there is about the practice of printing. It was a special order book, and when it came, I realized that it was a first edition, even though it had been published in 1955.

I KEPT MYSELF busy with the little press over the next couple of years. By 1973 I had saved enough to buy a Craftsmen Machinery 9 x 12 Monarch press. At the same time of course, arose the question of what would the house font be--having a press, I now needed a proper book face. The same friend who had given me The Art of Written Forms generously offered to pay for whatever house font I would choose. I still didn't know that just because Baltimore didn't carry Bembo, didn't mean I couldn't get it. So, I agonized over the Baltotype catalogue and finally settled on Goudy's Deepdene. I got one cap font, four lowercase, one small cap font, and a full italic font. Now I could set a full and proper page of type, two in fact! The cost for all this type in March of 1973 was $39.38 including the UPS cost. My patron probably never saw a happier recipient of her kindness. I also acquired 12pt Sans Serif Light (Baltotype's name for Kabel Light), a face I still deeply love to this day. It led me to learn of Rudolf Koch, who became my favorite type designer. I had in mind to publish a book of the poetry of a friend of mine who was a budding poet and actually quite good. He was opening a used bookstore and I was helping him and his wife with the work. However, when I proposed the project, he said "no--". His reason was that because we were friends there was no point in being published by me! Well, even at that time I knew something of the private press movement in the earlier part of the century in England, and thought to myself, "This guy is nuts!" I was so disgusted by that attitude that I published one of my own short stories and sold it on the streets of Cambridge. (As far as I know, he never was published, much, if at all. However, he is still listed as having a bookstore in New York City.) I did copyright that first Fairfax Press publication, and went on to print various bits of stuff for incipient artists and the like in the Cambridge area. Somewhere in the first half of 1973 I saw a newspaper ad for a press and type for $35. I followed it up and found a tiny little type cabinet with bits of pied type in a garage and a press that was a lump of rust out behind the garage. The press weighed more than my Monarch, but I managed to get all the bits and pieces home, where it sat untouched. Somewhere in here my patron (Deepdene) gave me a small Defiance standing press or screw press--the kind used by bookbinders and flower pressers. I now had three presses. The Kalamazoo YearsIn Vermont Until I Die

© 2001-2008, Clair Dunn.