Tag Archives: letterpress

Colenso’s Curios

Today I am at the Alexander Turnbull Library to see some printing ‘curios’ that belonged or were used by William Colenso in the 1830s.

The Type – I was surprised by the state of the type.
Generally ordinary, largely very clear distinct lines, no visible ink residue, discoloured black
But, I pulled out single piece, a capital A, significant damage of the ‘stem’ or ‘bulk’ of the piece of type, if not a disintegration, more likely a defect in the type casting or an anomaly in the metal composition.

This made me very nervous that it might break in half- that thought in mind and having to feel the type through gloves – it felt more vulnerable / fragile that I expected.

The nick is still visible below the defect. A curved nick as expected (angular nicks came later).

This was the only piece out of the properly packed type that I looked at.

Are all the pieces just like this?
Was this just dud type that Colenso never/barely used?
Did it only feel delicate because I wore gloves?
How low is the lead content? Usually 50-60% for handset type, is this defect more likely in higher or lower percentage lead type?
Did the type actually belong to Colenso? Afterall, all the type Colenso used belonged to the Church Missionary Society. But Robert Harding received all of Colenso’s type ‘curios’ that were in Colenso’s possession when he died. Perhaps this was type Colenso aquired after his employment with the CMS had finished. Or perhaps he took the type with him when he left for Gisborne. From Harding’s account, we know Colenso took his cases with him to Gisborne.

Other than this properly packed box of type that I couldn’t get a proper look at, there was also an additional assortment of unsorted type. The type is much later, with lots of variation in nick shape, number, depth and style.  There was also some brass rule, leading and three image blocks.

I got the most excitement out of Colenso’s composing stick:

That’s my hand holding Colenso’s comp stick. We can be more definitive about composing sticks than we can about type. If this is Colenso’s comp stick, and I believe it is, then it is almost 200 years old. Comp sticks are personal. Colenso likely learned to compose on this stick in Cornwall. He brought it here in 1834, we know this from Colenso’s own account. It is unlikely he ever had another. And so this comp stick was used to handset the print versions of He Whakaputanga and Te Tiriti.

The magic of the archive!

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Filed under letterpress, Non-Fiction Interest, Printmaking, Typography

laser-cutting type

A first foray – what possibilities does the laser cutting facility offer up? Technician Matt Davis suggests multiple possibilities

19/03/19

3mm MDF produces these beautiful cut-outs with dark edges an an overwhelming but wonderful smell of burnt wood.

Options for bringing them type high (0.918 inches, 23.3mm)

  1. 12mm MDF cut to size beneath 3mm piece, brings it to 15mm – Additional 3mm to 18, bring the rest up with card (not an uncommon way of printing with MDF in letterpress) – Issues, 12mm too thick for laser cutter, would need to cut using saws in woodwork lab.
  2. Use multiple 3mm or 5mm blocks cut to size using the laser cutter. quite a few needed
  3. Cutting into thicker wood to begin with, laser cutting away the negative pace rather than clean lines. (see M) Would still require building up to typehigh.

Worth considering what the type is for. I’m keen to make more durable type. Letterpress uses considerable weight and MDF type would not last. Therefore I need to consider wood type – What kind of wood would be most appropriate? The M was cut from pine.

I’m interested in being able to give the type I make to MOTAT one I have used them. Gift Economy.

In 1907, when Elsdon Best, a New Zealand ethnologist who had spent a lifetime studying Māori customs, wrote to an elder called Tamati Ranapiri, asking him to explain the concept of the hau, Ranapiri replied:
As for the hau , it isn’t the wind that blows, not at all. Let me explain it to you carefully. Now, you have an ancestral item ( taonga ) that you give to me, without the two of us putting a price on it, and I give it to someone else. Perhaps after a long while, this person remembers that he has this taonga , and that he should give me a return gift, and he does so. This is the hau of the taonga that was previously given to me. I must pass on that treasure to you. It would not be right for me to keep it for myself. Whether it is a very good taonga or a bad one, I must give to you, because it is the hau of your taonga , and if I hold on to it for myself, I will die. This is the hau . That’s enough.

The hau is at the heart of life itself. As Ranapiri explained to Best, if a person fails to uphold their obligations in these transactions, their own life force is threatened. As good or bad taonga and gifts or insults pass back and forth, embodying the power of the hau, patterns of relations are transformed, for better or for worse. When Elsdon Best wrote about Ranapiri’s account of the hau, it captured the imagination of a French sociologist, Marcel Mauss. In 1925, Mauss published The Gift , a classic work exploring gift exchange in a range of societies, including his own.

Salmond, Anne. Tears of Rangi : Experiments Across Worlds, Auckland University Press, 2017, pp 10.
In the meantime, how did these print?
21/03/19

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I am like your grammar

A couple of weeks ago we finished printing ‘I am like your grammar’ by Lisa Samuels and I was able to hand over copies. I really love this photo because usually there’s just a quick process of handing over the printing. But I was able to spend some time with Lisa as she saw the print for the first time.

I had a really great time printing this one. Lisa’s poetry opens up so many opportunities and my initial ideas for the design completely changed as the print developed. More pictures below of the print and the design and printing process.

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Filed under letterpress, Poetry, Printmaking, Typography

asemic letterpress

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20/08/2018 · 9:36 pm

waterlines: a letterpress print

Early in April I printed one of my poems – waterlines – at MOTAT. I designed and handset it, and it was printed on a Heidelberg Platen by Ian Barnes. It is a limited edition of 37 copies which I am selling to fundraise for a number of photopolymer plates for some other letterpress poetry projects I have coming up.

I’m selling the prints for $10 (a total bargain for a letterpress art print!) plus postage. Get in touch if you’d like a copy.

Thank you to New Zealand Pacific Studios; this poem began while I was staying at Normandel House as the Ema Saikō fellow in Nov/Dec last year.

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Talking about te reo Māori & letterpress

Since finalising the new jobbing typecase for setting in te reo Māori late last year, I’ve been plodding along setting bits and pieces. Namely the MOTAT Māori language booklet for te wiki o te reo Māori (11th – 17th September ’17) and a poem by Vaughan Rapatahana.

But in the lead up to tēnei wiki, I’ve been chatting to people about the project and what printing in te reo means for me. Below are two recent videos about the case and letterpress printing in te reo Māori.

This is an animated interview with the excellent and talented Sam Orchard! He’s such a great interviewer, I was so at my ease! Thanks Sam!

And this next one is a video from MOTAT, where they filmed what I’ve been getting up to in the print room (I was way more nervous for this one!)

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Māori Letterpress

Kia ora! After years of thinking about it, and 6 months of designing, planning, constructing and mostly waiting, the contemporary Māori typecase for hand-setting in te reo Māori is now an actual thing. The case has been ready for the type for a few months, but I was still waiting on the new type – the 5 vowels in upper and lower case with macrons, (tohutō). And those tohutō letters arrived today! This is the most exciting package I have ever opened. The things we get excited about! The type before it was dissed into the new case.

The type before it was dissed into the new case.

The type before it was dissed into the new case.

Close up of the A with tohutō in the case

Close up of the A with tohutō in the case

The case with just the new type

The case with just the new type

The full case.

The full case.

This afternoon I set a poem in Māori by Cilla McQueen that I translated earlier in the year. I found it surprisingly easy to switch to the new lay out. In particular I found the e moved to it’s no position to be ideal, so close to the t. And setting the frequent ‘ngā’ was so easy with the n and g next to each other and the a with tohutō just above. The move to have the w and k in their own large cells rather than squeezed into smaller ones around the outside was the real change. I’m so used to having to scrape around to get a w or k; they are so much more accessible now.

So, a huge success, now just to sort out a project that is fully in te reo Māori for some solid hand-setting with this new case!

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Case layout mō te tātai reta Māori

So this is my initial design, well, it’s about the fourth design so far – but it’s the initial design before trying to set type with it.

maori lay out design mcurtis 0716

I originally wanted to leave as many letters in the same place as in the NZ Printing Museum lay. But, in the end, having the ‘g’ so far away from the ‘n,’ just doesn’t make sense.

But I have kept the uppercase in alphabetical order.* And I have kept the vowels in place, and moved whatever was next to them to allow for the tōhuto (macron) version.

A wee quandary I am having about what to include, punctuation wise, is the ampersand. As someone who loves printing, is interested in typography, as well as someone who is interested in mark making and the forms of lines, I LOVE the ampersand. But is it needed in te reo Māori? There are so many ways of saying ‘and’ for different contexts, that a single ampersand doesn’t really cut it. And the ampersand is also a symbol for a whole word, rather than a sound. Perhaps it can be used in place of ‘me’ as ‘and’ or ‘with’ when listing? I’m not sure. Any thoughts from fluent speakers would be very welcome!!

 

* I wonder what order the alphabet would be in if it had been designed by Māori?

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Letterpress i te reo Māori

This week, in honour of te wiki o te reo Māori, I have begun a project that will enable me to letterpress print in te reo Māori.

Of course, I could print in Māori now, but there are no macrons and the typecase layout is not ideal for setting in Māori. So many of the letters and symbols are entirely superfluous, and there aren’t enough letters of the ones I do need, (especially w and k).

I am currently researching William Colenso, who was NZ’s first printer,* and his work. Primarily I am looking at the first few years after he arrived in the Bay of Plenty and the Printery he set up there as part of the Church Missionary Society (CMS). When Colenso arrived in late 1834, the orthography had only recently been decided by a panel of missionaries. Early spelling had Waikato look like Wykatoo. The new alphabet had only 13 letters (15 when you include the diagraphs ng and wh, which you should when you’re thinking of the Māori language, but 13 when thinking about letterpress). The CMS was pretty lacklustre in setting Colenso up with proper printing supplies and didn’t send him any typecases at all, just loose metal type. These two issues instigated a new Māori specific type layout.

colenso type layout imageColenso designed type cases specific to his task to print the bible i te reo Māori and had them constructed by a carpenter in Russel. He combined regular and italic into the same tray, but upper and lowercase were separate. This split layout was used for bookwork and longer texts in the 1800s. A ‘Job Case’ which combines the upper and lower case didn’t become common until late in the 19th century and then they were only used for smaller jobs and housed smaller founts.**

Job cases are what is in common use today. Most of the trays I use are in the New Zealand Printing Museum lay out, though I do also use the California Job case. Both are standards for New Zealand. These two images of these layouts are oddly proportioned but they are in fact the same shape, and the structure of the actual wooden case is the same.

nz printing museum typecasecalifornia job case***

I have decided to alter one of the standard job cases for use in setting Māori. This is for a number of reasons.

1. Talterations 1he shape of Colenso’s cases wouldn’t fit into the type cabinets I already use.
2. Job cases are what is used in contemporary printing, rather than separate upper and lower case cases.
3. I want a layout design that specifically makes room  for the new letters that I am getting cast at the Printing Museum foundry in Wellington – each of the five vowels with tohutō (macrons) in both upper and lower case.

So on Sunday, I set about removing some of the cross bars to make for larger sections for the type seeing as I don’t need so many letters and each of the letters I do need, I’ll use more of. There are more w’s in Māori than in Pākehā English for example.alterations 2

The wood was far harder and tougher than I expected and the nails at each juncture just wouldn’t come out. So in the end I employed some barbaric hacking at it to remove the parts I didn’t want. So some sanding is now in order.

I am yet to confirm my exact new design, but it is coming along nicely and I will post that up when it is closer to being finalised. But I do think the final say of the design will come down to how good it is to set type from!

E hiamo ana au mo tēnei kaupapa.

 

* William Yate was sort of technically the first printer, but he was so shit at it that people disregard him entirely.

** or fonts, if you like – a fo(u)nt is a complete collection of type, all the bits, not just the design (which is a typeface). There is some argument about the contemporary uses of these terms, but to my mind, when talking about letterpress, these terms are useful when understood in this way.

*** Layout images sourced from http://www.alembicpress.co.uk/Alembicprs/SELCASE.HTM

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linotype slug in helvetica 10pt

cropped linotype

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22/09/2013 · 4:23 pm