Three Questions: Aside from the presses you teach on, what press(es) do you have in your own personal shop, and of those what machines do you prefer (or enjoy) working on the most?
Gerald Lange: Right now I'm down to two presses, a Vandercook SP-15 and a Vandercook Universal III. I bought the 15 as new for about $200 in the early 1980s. It has served me very well, never had a problem with it, and I tend to use it for most work as the cylinder is very well balanced across the entirety of the press bed. The Universal is an automatic and I picked that up from a client a few years ago. He had to quit printing because of health problems and died shortly after. I have been working with a publisher of art prints/gig posters so the press has recently come in quite handy, because of it's size (20 inches) and the power assist. In the last 35 years I've had maybe a dozen Vandercooks but these seem the best by far.
3Q: If you can remember, what was the first full font of type you owned? Do you still have it?
GL: Yeah, I do remember. The first brand new type I ever bought was Goudy Old Style. Don't worry, I have gotten over that. But no, it's long gone. As I switched over from metal to digital in the 1990s I went from some three dozen cabinets down to four. I hung on to the new European foundry type. I recently did a type specimen/broadside of the Claudius Fraktur type that I have.
3Q: I was lucky enough to go to a high school with a very robust letterpress program (various C&Ps and proof presses, two working Linotypes, lots and lots of type). The school was torn down in the last decade and when they rebuilt the structure, letterpress was not in the cards - the entire printing program was eliminated. Do you see the resurgence in interest in craft printing among adults as a replacement or reaction to the loss of such school-age trade programs? What do you think the long-term effects of the loss of such programs will be on the book design, book publishing, and graphic design trades? Are we looking at letterpress being seen only as a kind of materialist fetish, or can it keep its value as a trade and craft?
GL: Most of the high school print shops disappeared ages ago. I remember taking a course in printing at my high school but it wasn't until I went to grad school that I encountered letterpress printing again and made the huge career mistake of getting enamored with it enough to start a printing/publishing business.
In the mid-1970s as commercial letterpress died out it also experienced a resurgence with the Fine Press Renaissance of the period. That itself loss its attraction by the turn of the century and was replaced with the current resurgence, which is quite a different animal altogether. This recent thing has far more to do with the "cult of the amateur" trend fostered by the web and to a degree by the "future shock" that has been associated with turn of the centuries, and of course by the promotion of it by celebrity Martha Stewart.
If one seriously considers the future of letterpress it doesn't look all that promising. It is limited by the very nature of its current attraction; its material basis. There are no new presses being built, there are no more commercially viable metal type foundries, etc. The purposeful decline in film manufacture does not ultimately bode well for those who have switched over to photopolymer plates as the alternative.
Letterpress is very hot right now but trends evolve out, I can attest to that. Then again, no one can, with any certainty, predict the future.
photograph: Gerald Lange with his trusty Vandercook type-high gauge; courtesy of Paul Romaine