Thursday, November 29, 2012
I started this post with the video below, which just shows a 19th Century letter press being operated. Since it wasn't inked I wanted to find another video that showed the entire process.
Instead I found the above video which is so ludicrously affected and pretentious that I couldn't pass on it. I love the breathy narration laden with Shatneresque pauses as they deliver an inadvertently hilarious paraody of the NPR style of intellectual BS. It's a shame, because what the printer is doing --casting type and mixing his own ink colors is actually pretty interesting.
However, his fixation on craftsmanship, while understandable, misses much of the real power of that press he is running. It is not the fact that letters are stamped into the paper, it is the volume of printed material that could be produced by the presses that matters.
I took a shop class in printing and what struck me was the much greater reach that press gave me. It is easy to forget these days, but prior to computer printing it was difficult and expensive to mass produce documents. Guttenberg wasn't about the smell of ink, the feel of paper and the look of lead typography -- that's all just nostalgia -- instead it was about spreading books far and wide.
As for the sterility of computer printing, it is not for no reason that the old cliche of police kicking down doors to bust up clandestine printing presses is an archaic act. After all, unless you're interested in little more than wedding invitations, it is not how the words look on paper that matters, it is what they say.