Dedicated to Fine Printing of Liturgical and Historic Interest on the Iron Hand Press

Below, for the interest of the reader, is a short account of the making of our latest book, The Great Seal of Walsingham:


1. The first stage in the production of a letterpress book is the setting of the type. The type is a series of cast lead characters- letters, conjoined letters (ligatures), numbers and punctuation. This is stored in individual compartments, one for each character, in a wooden drawer called a type case. The characters are picked out one-by-one and placed into a handheld metal device called a composing stick (seen below resting on the type case) and are spaced out using small pieces of lead, brass and copper of varying thicknesses. To create a book with justified lines, such as our Walsingham book, the line is composed with standard spacing, and as many complete words are fitted on as is possible, using standard spacing. This done, the spacing between the words is adjusted, made wider or narrower, until the line is of the same length as all the others. Once a complete page of text has been set, and any decorative ornaments or illustrations have been inserted, it is ready to go to the press... 

         


2. The completed pages of text are placed on the bed of the press, hit gently with a felt covered wooden block in order to make sure the type is all sitting at the same height, and locked-up using blocks of wood of varying sizes until everything is firmly in place. In the case of book printing several pages are usually locked up at any one time, since this greatly speeds up production. Below you can see some of the pages of the Walsingham book locked-up on the press, ready to be proofed...

            


3. The text is then proofed, any corrections to the text are made, the margins are measured to ensure they are even and that the pages will print uniformly, the packing of the press (which controls the amount of pressure exerted by the paper onto the type is adjusted if necessary, and the gage pins, which hold the paper onto the tympan are affixed. Presuming all is well, another trial is then made, until all is ready for production to commence...

4. The paper is first cut to the correct size, using a large guillotine, and then dampened and pressed for 20-30 minutes, in order to create a better surface, more receptive to the ink. This done, a first impression is made, and any further adjustments are made, and all being well production can then begin. Usually a large handlers, such as the one below should ideally be operated by at least two people- one to ink and another to put on and take off the paper, roll the bed in and out and pull the handle (commonly known as the devil's tail). Below the press can be seen, ready to begin production, one sheet at a time, and beside it a picture of the first completed sheets drying...

 


5. The sheets are printed one side at a time, until eventually all of the pages needed for the book, along with the printed cover have been produced. The individual page spreads are then cut down from the larger sheets, the card for the inner covers is cut, each page is checked, and they are then collated together into individual copies, ready to be bound. Each collated set of sheets is then checked again, and then bound together using waxed lined thread. Below the finished book may be seen, and also some close-up images of some of the ornaments used. The are cast lead blocks, made in the same way as type letters, and used to decorate and add further beauty to printed items. Ideally, these ornaments should be in harmony with the content of the text, and so for the Walsingham book ornaments were chosen to reflect late medieval decorative patterns, such as the gothic-style circular branch motif shown below as part of a composite design. Moreover, for this book ornaments were also chosen which make reference to Marian symbolism- the Marian 'AM' monogram standing for 'Ave Maria' for example, or the rose, a reference to Mary's traditional titles of 'Mystic Rose' and 'Rose without thorns'. Floral decoration was chosen, referencing both her fruitfulness, her status as the New Eve in an enclosed garden, and in three places designs with Fleur-de-lis were employed, for the Fleur-de-lis is a version of the Lily of associated with both the Annunciation and Mary's virginal purity. Finally, a colour scheme restricted to blue and white, two of Mary's traditional colors was chosen, in order to create a work which in its external beauty truly befits the beauty and dignity of its subject.