Specimen Sunday

We have a special treat this Specimen Sunday. It was recently announced on the Letpress Listserv and Briarpress that a facsimile reprint of Hamilton Mfg. Company’s Specimens of Wood Type (No. 17) was available from John Horn of Shooting Star Press fame. In addition to sending John a $40 check for my very own copy, I sent him an email to ask if he would grant permission to post some images of Specimens, as well as a description of the reprint process. John graciously assented, and requested that I give credit for the work to Rich Hopkins (no stranger to type specimen facsimile reprints, but more about that in future posts) and Pioneer Press, Terra Alta, WV. Here is John’s response to the role he played in this collaborative effort:

I have the better parts of two original 1906 Hamilton specimens but they were falling apart after 104 years. I was destroying them trying to identify some of the wood type in my collection. The paper is very brittle. I considered buying a large format scanner and scanning a copy to a disc but while visiting with Rich Hopkins, I mentioned the idea of him and Pioneer Press reprinting the specimen. Rich seemed eager to jump into the project. After some discussion we found that his copy of the book was the most complete so he scanned his own copy. I must give most of the credit for this project to Rich Hopkins and his crew at Pioneer Press. Rich put in a lot of extra time in scanning and cleaning up the scans and the printing and binding are impeccable. I think the reproduction looks better than the original! The book just would have not been published had it not been for Rich and his crew. So my role was the initial idea and then bankrolling the project. Of course, I’m doing all the packing and mailing.

The following is Rich Hopkins’ description – originally posted to Letpress Listserv – of the pre-press, printing, and binding of this exceptional facsimile:

I’ll try to be brief and not get bogged down in infinite technical detail. We did the scanning on a MicroTec 11×17 scanner and all scans were done at 600 dpi. We did a lot of experimenting with the scanner’s settings to assure that we got the best original image and that means that on the pages with one huge letter and virtually no type, we scanned to one goal, where if the page was full of tiny type, we scanned to an altogether different goal. We scanned to grayscale PSD (Photoshop Document) files, not to jpg or tiff.

All pages were reviewed in Photoshop and retouched as necessary. The goal with the scanner was to minimize Photoshop intervention, but it still was necessary on every page. The covers were an extensive assembly from bits and pieces of various scans of the book covers available to us, all assembled into one piece via Photoshop. The spine was fabricated from pieces because (1) no book on hand had a spine which was intact, and (2) the book thickness was greater on the reprint than on the original.

The book was assembled in Adobe InDesign, which enables direct importing of PSD files and the option of opening and editing if needed from InDesign. Printing was done on a Hamada B452 press which is a 14×20 format. We were able to print two pages up on this press. This is a 4-color press but we opted to use it primarily because of its better inking capabilities, and we don’t have a “digital” one-color press to this size. By calling it a “digital” press, I mean we are able to go direct from InDesign to plate through our Rip-It (Now Xante) platesetter which produces polyester plates. This technology has eliminated the need for film negatives, and all “stripping” is automatically handled by the platesetter.

We have much experience with polyester plates now and are able to get the coverage, and clarity which in earlier days were virtually impossible because of the newness of the technology. These plates will hold halftone dots as small as 2% and as large as 98%. Of course for most of the book we did not get involved in halftone screens at all. We used a special flat black ink to get the heaviest, clearest black image possible and having a pressman with over 30 years’ experience on the job helped immensely.

Collating and binding were rather routine. We used our Duplo collator which has 20 stations, and then combined the various “sessions” by hand to make the completed book. Binding was subcontracted to a friend/trade bindery in central West Virginia, who also laminated the covers.

Specimens of Wood Type (No. 17), pp. 96–97

Specimens of Wood Type (No. 17), pp. 144–145
Script faces are not usually associated with wood type, but this spread shows two of three full pages of  calligraphic designs.

Specimens of Wood Type (No. 17), pp. 166–167
Two pages of the kind of wood type that most printers dream of owning but rarely see.

Specimens of Wood Type (No. 17), pp. 194–195
The page size of this specimen allowed Hamilton to showcase some large characters: 50 picas on the verso; 60 picas (10 inches!) recto.

The quality of this facsimile is nearly flawless. My only criticism is that in order to reproduce the specimen at 100% actual size, the margins of the original were reduced, and this is apparent in the gutter of the book. This quibble would hardly dissuade me from encouraging anyone and everyone even remotely interested in typography or letterpress from purchasing a copy. The cost is $40 each, postpaid in the United States. Request your own by writing:

Shooting Star Press
PO Box 17252
Little Rock, AR 72222

Many thanks to John Horn, Rich Hopkins and Pioneer Press for making this invaluable resource available and affordable.