A visit to "Horse and Buggy Press" in Durham NC
Hannah and I have been talking about wedding invitations so I made appointments to see some local owners of real-live wooden and metal type - letterpress, hot-metal-type typesetting - establishments. Remember, when typesetters had to be able to read upside down or backwards as they put the tiny letters onto their rows?
So today I went to see Dave Wofford, owner of "Horse and Buggy Press," self-proclaimed retro grouch.
He's been working out of the Bull City Arts Collaborative in downtown Durham since 2006. (They hold open studios on the Third Friday of every month from 6–9pm if you want to have a look for yourself.)
I wanted to lay my eyes on the old machines: I had a few chances long ago to run thick old-fashioned paper through this sort of press and it seemed very romantic to me. (In real life, though, it involved unromantically getting ink all over myself and, sadly, over some of my expensive paper.)
On his website this motto: "Today's mighty oak is just yesterday's nut that held its ground."
It turns out Dave does sometimes set type by hand, but most of the time he designs on the computer like the rest of us. For special jobs he then sends his files away to be made into plates. Dave told me:
"After getting a plate made, I lock up the plate in the bed (just like hand-set type), and from there the process is the same as hand-set letterpress printing.
Each print is pulled one page at a time, one color of ink per pass. It still is hand-cranked letterpress printing, just from a plate instead of individual letters of type. The goal is to combine the best of both the mechanical and digital worlds instead of merely adhering to one or the other."
He's designed this book, Rain Gardening in the South," and it's available at his shop or from Amazon. I wish I'd remembered to ask for a look while I was there.
He told me he's not really into doing so many wedding invitations any more, he'd rather develop his business as book, music packaging, and poster designer.
A short aside: he did this year's Eno Festival poster, and he showed it to me. Sadly, due to our troubled economic times it will be considerably smaller than they used to be. And that means it hardly features any musicians at all -- and the ones who did make the poster are in tiny print. Too bad!
Here's some of the work I saw at his studio (I got the pictures off his website, though). You can't really get the full effect without holding them in your hands.