Practical Printing for Book Historians

Earlier this year we advertised the first in a series of workshops collectively entitled “The 21st-Century Book Historian“.  Last week it finally happened: for a long Wednesday afternoon the press room was full of doctoral students from across Scotland, learning about and participating in the processes of letterpress printing.

Our keynote speaker taking a pull on the Columbian.

It was a wonderful day.  We – we being the full cohort of press workers: Dawn, Kelsey, Mhairi, Bean, and Sarah – took the students through setting, make ready, pulling, and folding, using our in-progress publication of James Fraser’s account of Venice as raw material.  The day concluded with a fantastic paper on material bibliography by the inimitable Jamie Cumby of St Andrews (@JECumby) followed by a brief response from Daryl Green, Librarian of Magdalen College, Oxford (@Ilikeoldbooks).

Demonstrating setting.

I’m pretty sure that everyone had fun and I hope that everyone came away from the day having learned something they didn’t know before (my favourite quote was from one participant who, after taking a pull on the Columbian, exclaimed, “I’ll never blame the early moderns for poor printing again!”).  Certainly, us printers learned a huge amount from the experience.  Not only did it push us into doing a larger, more ambitious project (the Fraser) than we’ve done before, it also encouraged us to reflect on our own practice in new ways prior to sharing that practice with the participants.  The road to good printing is neither a short nor an easy one, but I hope that this workshop saw everyone a little further along it than we were before.

Sheet in Press
Fresh on the press: one of the sheets with which participants learned how to fold a quarto gathering.

Going forward, we’re hoping to doing many more workshops like this (one is already planned for September and we’re currently applying for funding which might allow us to do another before that).  It’s such an immense pleasure teaching the intricacies of letterpress and a great privilege to be part of an organisation that allows us to do so.  Last week already saw at least one participant whose piqued interest may lead her further into the world of printing and I hope that in the long run we might be able to play some small role in igniting the interest of a new generation of Scottish letterpress printers.

– Kelsey


Copyright © 2018 The Pathfoot Press

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