A Visit to Heaven

I don’t have any photos from my visit last night to Swamp Press because, well, it would be inappropriate to take photos in heaven, wouldn’t it?

I first made the acquaintance of Ed Rayher some years ago when I went in search of some 12 point Bodoni cap K to fill out an incomplete font I’d purchased (something that later evolved into a Krisis). A year later I met him in person at the Printing Arts Fair at the Museum of Printing north of Boston. And, more recently, Ed cast me some 14 point Bodoni that I used to set my Confederation Country Cabinet pieces.

When I realized that Ed’s shop is in the village of Northfield, MA, which is only a hour’s drive from Yankee Publishing here in Dublin, NH where I’m spending the week, I resolved to pay him a visit. Which is how I ended up knocking at his shop door around supper time last night.

For the next 3 hours I got a cook’s tour of Ed’s operation, a collection of machines, tools, type that, for a typophile like me, was heartbreakingly fascinating.

Ed describes his operation as a “collection of microbusinesses,” and as the tour proceeded I learned about each. For Ed is not simply a type founder, but he’s also making new type, setting type, printing, and binding. I’m sure there are a few other things he does that I missed in the process.

So I saw the ATF pantograph that Ed uses to cut new matrices, and learned about how all of the steps in the process lead to a final cast product that is precisely type-high.

And the casting machines that Ed uses, with those matrices, to cast type, along with the Monotype keyboard he uses to encode paper tape that are fed into the casters (an arrangement of technologies that aligns type casting with the Jacquard loom).

And the Heidelberg Windmill that’s the workhorse of Ed’s print shop (and what an amazing machine it is to watch).

And the binding machine that he uses to bind signatures he’s printed together to make books.

Put all together, Ed’s shop contains the technology to take a visual conception of a new typeface, to cut mats for it, cast type from the mats, set the type, print with the type, and to bind the result into a book. All you need as raw materials are hot metal, electricity, paper, and bookbinding thread. Along with a healthy dose of creativity and a lifetime’s worth of experience spent plumbing the depths of the machines.

Ed was very generous with his time, and patiently answered question after question. As the clock neared 9:00 p.m. and with thunderstorms threatening, I accepted his gift of a catalog of his typefaces and headed off into the night back to New Hampshire.

Wow. Just wow.