We are quickly closing in on getting “Roman Workbenches” to press at Steamwhistle Press, and I would like to tell you this now: This is unlike any book we have done before.
The book will be printed letterpress on an old Vandercook proofing press – the same press we used to print “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” posters. To print the book we will first make special polymer plates that will be affixed to the bed of the Vandercook. Every sheet of paper will be fed by hand into the press and pulled for drying by hand.
Normally we print our books at Lost Art Press using a modern and highly automated offset process, which is (relatively) inexpensive and produces a nice result.
But letterpress printing is something else. It’s physical instead of chemical. Every character and every line makes an impression into the paper. The ink spread is regulated by hand. So a letterpress book is as much a textural experience as an intellectual one. If you have ever held a book from the 18th or 19th century and wondered why it spoke to you, my guess is you have sensed this manufacturing difference.
This week Brian Stuparyk at Steamwhistle and I pored over paper samples to find the right combination of brightness, weight and texture. Right now it looks like we are going to use paper from Mohawk, which made the paper for the deluxe edition of “Roubo on Marquetry.”
Also, Nicholas Moegly is now working on the 14 hand-drawn illustrations for the book (a draft of Figure 1 is at the top of this entry).
Once we deliver our finished layouts to Brian at Steamwhistle, he estimates it will take him an entire month of running the press to print the 500 books we’ve ordered.
After going over all the details of this book – handmade benches, handmade illustrations and a manual letterpress, I wondered: What the &^%* am I doing here?
But this weekend we had the Lost Art Press storefront open and we were busy from the time I unlocked the doors until I kicked the last two customers out at 5:15 p.m. Many of them were fascinated by the two Roman workbenches in my shop. How do they work? How did you find out about them? How did you make them? Can you use them to build furniture?
This short book – 64 pages and only 3/8” thick – will answer all those questions. And it will be a (for lack of a better word) sensual experience.
The downside? There will only be 500. That’s the absolute limit for the equipment, people involved, space and energy. We’ll sell it only through Lost Art Press (there really aren’t enough to ship them to retailers). But we’ll make special arrangements so international customers can buy them from us.
We’ll have a price for the book and more details later this week. Until then, I hope you dream of Perdix (shown above) and the tools he invented.
— Christopher Schwarz