Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Printing as a passion

When I was a kid, somewhere around the 4th or 5th grade, I fell in love with printing. I read a lot about Benjamin Franklin, his print shop and publications and I even dug into some serious printing history, learning about the German printer, Johannes Gutenberg. Although the Chinese actually invented printing, it was Gutenberg who invented - or, at least he was the first European to print from - movable type.

I remember receiving the press pictured above - the "Superior Star Rotary Star" manufactured by the Superior Marking Equipment Company of Chicago - as a birthday or Christmas gift. I spent more time with this little outfit than I did chasing girls as a teenager. It came with rubber type that could be "composed" into words and sentences. The rubber letters would go into metal holders that locked onto the printing drum. There was an ink roller that automatically inked the type; all one had to do is slip in the paper and out came a a printed flyer or stationery or whatever. To me, I it was a ball! Apparently, that's when the portion of my DNA that is deep "geek" started to come out.

One could even place rubber "cuts" on the type holders and then my printing projects could include little cartoon-type drawings and other "line art," as in the photo below:

It was this little press that sparked a life-long interest in printing and the graphic arts. At one point, I printed and constructed - this is really geeky - paper "pen protectors." I folded and stapled them together and printed my name or some slogan on the flap that went over my shirt pocket. My schoolmates in the 6th grade saw me wearing these and several ordered a set for themselves, which I gladly custom-made and sold to them. I even did one for a girl in the class who had a horse named "Sham," and she wanted to showcase that on one of my "pen protectors." 

It wasn't long before the school janitor asked me "Hey, kid, are you the one distributing these things?" as he waved a pen protector at me, one I had made for a classmate. Yes, sir, I was the creator and distributor. "Well, they make a big mess in the hallways because kids throw them wherever they feel like throwing 'em." It seems my buddies didn't value my printed products as much as I did. That ended my grade-school attempt at running a printing business.

I never, however, lost my interest in typography and layout. Later, as an adult, working in media and the ad agency business, I acquired an IBM Selectric typewriter, the one with the little type balls I could change. Changing typewriter fonts was wonderful and a heck-of-a-lot easier than setting lines of individual rubber letters! 

With that typewriter, I created a newsletter for the Fargo (ND)-Moorhead (MN) Ad Club, now called the Advertising Federation of North Dakota, and used "rub-off" type for headlines. And, when Pagemaker came out for Mac SE computers, I was definitely hooked on electronic layout; still am today, but I've done it on Microsoft Windows computers since 1995. Still enjoy printing, but on my inkjet and laser printers and, unlike that little Superior Star, which only allowed me to print on about a 4 by 6-inch sized paper, my printers today let me to go all the way up to legal size! 

My personal library contains about a dozen books on type fonts. The latest addition to my collection is a book published last year (2012) entitled Just My Type: A Book About Fonts (not dating!) by Simon Garfield, and published by Penguin. This outstanding overview of fonts and their stories will help anyone with the least bit of interest in graphics to understand some of the classic fonts and how they came to be. I strongly recommend this book and the movie about one of the most ubiquitous fonts in the world, Helvetica. The movie is simply called Helvetica and is available on DVD. If you're a journalism, English or media major or just interested in graphic arts, you should read Just My Type and view Helvetica, the movie.

Order either or both of these items through the Amazon links below:

Photos of the Rotary Star printing press are by Tom Laurus and are posted here with his permission. Tom's photos are excellent and really show-off the press. You can learn more about this product and others at Tom's website: