Buying vintage type specimen books

by Mark on 02/26/2014

The problem with buying old wood type is identification. Sometimes the maker’s mark is stamped on the A block but often it’s a case of putting on your deerstalker hat and trawling through old type specimen books. This isn’t a chore as I love these books, the ones from the 1930s onwards are reasonably cheap, especially if you avoid ebay and support the dwindling second hand bookshop market. I recently picked up this 1938 edition of  ‘A catalogue of Typefaces, Ornaments, Borders and Rules’ produced by Western Typesetting in Bristol. A hefty hardback of 232 pages, 10×12 inches in size full of joy! It smells wonderful too.

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Retiring an old workhorse

by Mark on 01/27/2014

It’s a fitting coincidence that in the week that Apple celebrates 30 years of the Mac I replace my ageing MacBook Pro – I say ageing – it was brought in 2009 but in computing terms it’s a pensioner. So I’ve given it to my daughter to enjoy a gentle retirement doing nice things like playing Sims and watching YouTube cat videos, rather than huff and puff over a 1Gb Photoshop file. It’s replacement is a much leaner thing, very eager to please and galloping along with it’s Adobe chums.

I’ve added my first Mac, a Classic II, (I still have it and it still boots up too!) to Apple’s Your First Mac celebration and realised I’ve been using one for over 23 years – the attic is turning into a small Mac museum – interestingly I’ve always spent the same amount of money on each machine over those years!


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Restoring my Peerless No. 2 press – rollers

by Mark on 01/16/2014

Today I’ve moved one step closer to restoring my press with the arrival of the newly recovered rollers from The Roller Company in Sheffield. They look great in red too. They were very helpful with ideas on how to restore the rollers – the originals were completely perished having not been used for 20 years – it was difficult to imagine what they looked like, but thanks to help from Richard Small at Letterpresser, who also has the same press as me (called Ivor), sizes and spec were duly sent to The Roller Company.

Now all I have to do is put the press back together again – now where’s that tin of nuts and bolts gone?

Contact John Burke at The Roller Company on 0114 248 0305.


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Listening to San Fermin

by Mark on 01/13/2014

I discovered San Fermin via a session on BBC 6 Music – despite hearing them in December I’ve only just got around to ordering the CD. Well worth the wait as it’s gorgeous!

San Fermine is brainchild of 24-year-old Brooklyn based composer Ellis Ludwig-Leone who looks suitably eclectic with a hint of geek about him. I’ve seen a review describing the sound as ‘baroque pop’ and ‘gloriously complex’, Ellis calls it “a concept album in that it’s meant to be listened to front to back.”


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Remembering Classic Kids Telly

by Mark on 01/7/2014

The Royal Mail launched some great stamps today featuring classic children’s TV characters – it did make me feel old though as I remember watching most of the old ones – Mr Ben and Bagpuss were a particular favourite – disappointed not to see Morph and I’m not sure Peppa Pig is a ‘classic’ – Charlie and Lola would have been a far better choice.

I like the little detail of having the characters break out of the stamp format – bit of a die cut challenge!


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Falling in love with Esmeralda

by Mark on 01/6/2014

Esmeralda Pro is a beautiful Open Type font which I discovered while browsing the excellent ‘I love Ligatures’ website.

To quote the designer Guille Vizzari:

“Esmeralda was born with a strong influence of the classical “capitalis monumentalis”, carved in stone. In the same way, the origin of this majuscule writing emerged from the brush, from a way of writing made merely by hand. For this reason, these two universes were intended to lie beneath the shape of each letter, redefining them. And this combination of styles should also be reflected in a lower case set that also allows to open up the spectrum of usage possibilities. Foundational calligraphy represented a solid base for the development of lower case glyphs, ensuring proper interaction with the upper case letters.

“Esmeralda” features a great number of ligatures that mix classic structures with a more contemporary impression. With more than eleven hundred glyphs, it provides a multiplicity of uses across a wide combinatory of ligatures, alternative signs, initial caps, miscellaneous and connectors; each one of them accessible through Open Type.

“Esmeralda” is perfect to speak with a classical yet fresh, modern – and a little bit bold – tone of voice.


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Learning about Agate

by Mark on 01/3/2014

I’ve been looking for a metal type scale – I did have one when I was a student at Liverpool Polytechnic but I’ve mislaid it, probably thinking “I won’t be needing that again!”

I found one in the US on – with both picas and agate measurements on – it’s a useful 24 inches long with a handy hole to hang up.

I’ve never heard of an Agate so I’ve discovered it’s a measurement relating to 5.5 points, or about 1/14 of an inch. An Agate font is commonly used to display statistical data or legal notices in newspapers. It is the smallest point size that can be printed on newsprint and remain legible. The Guardian has a specially designed Agate sans for use in it’s classified and sports sections.

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Making resolutions #2

by Mark on 01/2/2014

As I’m increasingly living an analogue life (listening to vinyl, letterpress printing etc) I’m planning to start a ‘scrapbook’ this year – I already have a pile of scribbles on my desk and bits pin on my noticeboard so I’m just being more organised! I do have Pinterest but I wish it was a physical thing in my hands (same way I can never really get into ebooks despite having designed a few). I think to marry things together I will occasionally scan pages from my book and post them here. I’m a big fan of all things Moleskine but also wish Scoutbooks were sold in the UK – I could always make my own too – one of my books for Christmas was the incredible 500 Handmade Books – so watch this space!

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Making resolutions #1

by Mark on 01/1/2014

I think I read 2 books in 2013 making it the worst year for
reading. When I made a daily commute to Liverpool I had a 40 minute
train journey and read a book every week (with a few exceptions -
the last Harry Potter took ages). So with another pile arriving at
Christmas my first New Year’s resolution is to make time to read -
think this will have to be done by sacrificing some telly so I hope
the BBC will play ball!

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Checking my bees

by Mark on 02/21/2012

It’s always a relief to see my bees flying in the spring – they’re pretty inactive over the winter, spending most of their time in a cluster keeping warm. Today the sun was out and so were the bees – this colony is a Buckfast queen and surprisingly large for the time of year – fingers crossed for a good honey year and a healthy colony. Bzzzzzz!