Letterpress love at Harrington & Squires

March 29, 2011 § 3 Comments

A long love of all things Letterpress recently led me to seek out an inspiring location in which to gain some hands on experience of this ancient artisanal skill. Last Wednesday, a fusion of synchronicity and inky threads led me to the door of 136a Fortess Road in Tufnell Park; the home of Harrington & Squires, a small and very special private press hidden away in leafy north London.

Set up in 2002 by graphic designers Chrissie Charlton and Vicky Fullick – my teachers for the day, the H&H hideaway is akin to entering a magic alphabet kingdom at the top of a Papyrus tree. Found a to z carved letters sit like broken jigsaw pieces in floor to ceiling plan chests; dripping ink pots stand piled under wooden work benches abord which beautiful red glistening Adana letterpresses wait patiently for their next master crafter – in this case, me.

“…this is our workshop – it is 1.2 metres wide by 3 storeys high. It smells of ink, white spirit and coffee. The ground floor is for typesetting, the middle floor for printing and the top floor has the computer, nipping press and little kitchen.”

In the company of the lovely Praise, a student graphic designer on secondment, we began by exploring the rings of our treehouse. After a welcome tea and biscuit upstairs we descended to the roots where we explored the different fonts on offer. I hadn’t any specific project in mind but was very quickly drawn to Bembo, a beautiful serif typeface originally cut by a 15th century Venetian punchcutter named Francesco Griffo. Contrasting with an 18 point Gill Sans – a well known sans-serif adopted by the BBC and London Underground, I began, with the aid of 2 composing sticks (handheld trays) to piece together a 2-colour design.

Here I reminisce about folding dough with Jane at Virtuous Bread and come to the sorry conclusion that I am all fingers! Arranging 12 point Bembo in a composing stick takes some getting use to and I found myself enviously watching the deft formation of beautifully arranged sentences by my mentors, but I persevered and with one line proudly completed, graduated on to lead spacing – the gaps between my lines.

Once finished, I happily transferred my work to the chase,  a metal frame housing the overall design, which I then had to pack out with ‘furniture’ and ‘quoins’ and tighten it all together to avoid a disastrous printers pie – the curious term that refers to the jumbled chaos that ensues when type unravels. Relieved that all talk of baking stopped there, I ascended with my masterpiece to the holy grail – the middle kingdom, home to the Adana 8×5.

These striking red machines are the REAL DEAL. Inked up, paper aligned and chase set I spend the following hour in a letterpress trance, churning out pink, blue, brown paper creations with my Polkadotty coordinates firmly, beautifully and colourfully stamped onto every bit of spare paper I could get my hands on.

And here are the results: In love. Buying a letterpress. This weekend.

{ Thanks to Chrissie and Vicky for a marvellous day }

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