Just a few roads from this office is a beautiful corner of Tufnell Park, where two master designers, Chrissi and Vicki have set up shop as specialist letterpressers, Harrington & Squires. Everything they make – from tee shirts to fridge magnets to tear-off calendars – is done with such a measured and artistic eye that they seem to have taken the limits of letterpressing as a challenge for their creativity. I noticed recently that they ran courses and so I put myself on one to get my hands inky.
For those of you who don’t know what letterpressing is, it is the oldest form of typesetting, where blocks of type are built up from separate letters, inked and literally pressed into the paper. Gutenburg’s bible was first printed using a rudimentary form of letterpressing and so we owe the Enlightenment to it.
I came to the course with an idea to turn the two lines of poetry that gave Tinder + Sparks it’s name into a book. Right away Chrissi and Vicki had me planning the layout, text, type size and style. We agreed on Gill Sans, and I set to work hand setting the type. I was surrounded by drawers and drawers of metal type and it was absorbing; all my life I had been leading text by pressing Alt-Down on the keyboard and now I was leading type using actual lead! It felt great trust me.
Everything is set back to front and I obviously set the ‘b’s as ‘d’s and vice versa. I typeset two sets of two to create the four pages of type I required.
The afternoon was spent inking the type and pressing it into the paper, and while that dried I made the covers of the books using wood blocks. I found the type that looked the most like Trade Gothic Bold Condensed and set it on a metal proofing table, held fast with magnets. This was inked in one colour, rollered and then the ampersand was re-inked in a different colour, cause I thought that would look ace.
I’ve only just got round to binding them but I love the wonky results; God knows what I’m going to do with them but they are really good to have. I would highly recommend a letterpressing course to anyone with a passing interest in the old forms of printing. It is a fascinating insight into the tools and terms of the trade, many of which have been handed down to us in digital form. And if they’re reading this, thanks to Chrissi and Vicki, it was one of the coolest days.