Composing and Printing Together At Last

When I was first learning the printing trade at the Peterborough Examiner, back in the early 1990s, I worked exclusively in the Composing Room. There we made up the pages for the newspaper each day, shot negatives of them, and then dropped the negatives down a chute to the Pressroom where plates were made and newspapers printed.

Over the almost two years I worked at the paper, I never once saw what happened at the other end of the chute: the only evidence that anything happened was that sometime after we dropped the last negative, the Pressroom would send a printed newspaper back up the shoot for us to proof.

For the six years my letterpress operation was based at The Guild, circumstances meant that, inconveniently given that it was just me, composing and printing were similarly split over two floors.

With my new setup, however, everything’s in the same room, and evidence this week suggests that the difference will be dramatic. Not only have I printed more this week than I have in the last 6 months, but I’ve been more creative, paid more attention to detail, and have been happier with the results. There’s something to be said for removing logistical friction, especially when that friction involves hauling heavy formes up and down the stairs.

I’m traveling to New Hampshire next week to spend time at The Old Farmer’s Almanac. We’ll be marking together the 10th anniversary of the death of my friend and colleague the late John Pierce.

John was many things, including a poet, and some years ago his wife Sherin shared with me some of the poetry that John wrote when he was at Dartmouth in the late 1960s. I made some copies, with an eye to perhaps someday setting and printing some of the poems.

That someday was today, as it turned out. I selected one of John’s poems, one he wrote in 1968 called Specialization, and set it in 24 point Futura.

Having printing and composing all in the same space made the makeready process—the many adjustments to the type and it’s arrangement required for a clean print—so, so much easier. What would have been exhausting and exasperating a month ago flowed free and smoothly today.

Copies are drying tonight, and tomorrow I’ll pack them all up for sharing next week with John’s family, friends, and co-workers.


Susan White's picture
Susan White on April 7, 2018 - 17:52 Permalink

Reading this, and looking at that photo, reminded me of a school field trip I took to the Montreal Gazette back in the late 60's or early 70's. It was quite interesting to learn about the typesetting and printing process of the newspaper but what always stuck in my mind most was the term "lead pig", which as a kid I thought was pretty funny. Glad your new space is working out well for you. There's nothing like efficiency to make a job more enjoyable.