Monday, August 19, 2013

lead into gold

Photo of Andrew Hoyem by ToniBird Photography
From: Harvard Magazine.

"[Andrew] Hoyem runs Arion Press, a fine-edition publisher in San Francisco. Some of the books it has produced are set by hand, and all are printed in small editions whose volumes sell for hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Following tradition, Hoyem melts down the type after the run is complete, preserving the volumes’ uniqueness. The approach runs contrary to mainstream trends in today’s literary marketplace, and... rests on the value of precision: the physicality of the book as an object and the startling originality of the craftsman’s eye. 'There’s a kind of human rhythm to this,' Hoyem explains. 'That’s what fine printing is—it’s about being perfect.'
     […] Arion Press’s workshop is located on the lower floor of its facility. At one end is the M & H type foundry: a stark, cavernous space smelling of machine oil and metal. There is a kiln, where Hoyem and his colleagues melt lead into ingots to be used for monotype; stations across the room contain casting equipment.
     Since the 1990s, Hoyem has been using computer interfaces to cast monotype directly from computer-generated text, expediting the scrupulous work of turning sentence after sentence into lead. Some of the press’s most rarefied projects, though, are set by hand. In deference to local printing tradition, Hoyem files his more than 100 tons of poured type largely in what are known as California job cases, with the noncapital and capital letters kept in side-by-side arrays of compartments. More traditionally, though, they’re stacked: the lower case and the upper case.
     Part of Hoyem’s duty as a master craftsman lies in training. He takes apprentices, as his predecessors did for centuries. It is no mean commitment: an apprenticeship runs four years in the foundry and press room, two in the bindery—and that’s only the groundwork. 'To get the quality in press work that we demand, it takes years,' he says. He enforces a schedule. Each morning, staff members are on the job at 8:30; they get a short lunch and an afternoon coffee break and leave promptly at 5. Otherwise, they’re at their stations.
     A visit to the bindery might find a couple of staffers hard at work making slipcases... At one end of the room is a sewing machine that they use to sew together many books’ spines, though the most labor-intensive volumes are stitched together by hand, on frames. Hand-sewn bindings don’t break or gape or hang open to certain pages, so they’re perfect for books that get lots of scrutiny and use, like the landmark Arion Press Bible that, today, is the volume on the pulpit in San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral."
— Nathan Heller, Harvard Magazine
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