Friday, September 25, 2009

Arion Press Tour

Arion Press
M & H Type
Grabhorn Institue

The book arts publisher Arion Press is notable for having printing presses, a typefoundry & bindery all under one roof in the Presidio. Even though there were only 3 of us this Thursday afternoon, we were given a patient & thorough tour of the facility. There was some excitement, as the artist Kiki Smith was working in their offices, & we got a glimpse of her as well as mock-ups of the piece she is working on, a poem illustrated with photocopies of her own hair.

Arion Press: Unfolded PagesDownstairs we saw the printing presses & a massive stack of unfolded pages for an edition of Don Quixote.

Arion Press: Typeface cabinetsThey house an impressive collection of historic typefaces, going back to the Colonial Period, including the typeface used to print the Thompson Bible, one of the first American Bibles. Long walls are lined with these cabinets.

Monotype KeyboardA friendly fellow in overalls showed us the typecasting machines in the M & H Type typefoundry. The Monotype system has some vague parallels to computing. The Monotype keyboard punches holes in a paper tape. This paper tape is then fed into a caster, which interprets the holes to make the metal type. Software processes are gradually replacing the keyboard, so that a computer can be used to directly control the caster.

Arion Press: Book Sewing MachineIn the bindery, an apprentice binder showed us how an edition of Mrs. Bridges is currently being bound. Amazingly, almost all of this is still done by hand, even folding the pages & sewing the bindings. They have this book sewing machine that does the job in a fraction of the time, but apparently hand sewing is just stronger & better.

One must be awed by the amount of raw human labor & skill required for these productions. Books arts have been rising in popularity in recent years, perhaps as a reaction to the increasing digitization of our world. Everyone here seems quite confident of the continued existence of the book as an object.

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