Printing presses used by Macy

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Printing presses used by Macy

Jun 13, 11:17pm

I read an interesting article about the Stinehour Press, one of the printing presses used by the LEC. Some extracts:

Separated from active duty in the Navy in July of 1947, Stinehour (known to his friends and colleagues as Rocky) returned home, and with his pilot training took a job with the Connecticut Valley Air Service. He soon married Elizabeth Maguire, but upon return from their honeymoon learned that the Air Service had closed for lack of business, and he was out of a job. Desirous of remaining in the North Country, the Stinehours considered the narrow range of options the region offered for employment. Among the possibilities was printing, which appealed to Rocky because he had been interested in design and drawing as a child and liked the idea of producing something practical and useful that involved work with both head and hand. He began making the rounds of all the printers in the area, but none were able to offer any entry-level positions. He had almost given up when a friend at a bank in Whitefield suggested he go across the Connecticut River to Lunenburg, Vermont, and call on a farmer-printer named Ernest Bisbee, who did occasional job printing for the bank. Rocky did so. Bisbee took a liking to him and agreed to take him on as an apprentice. After his first day on the job in February, 1948, Rocky knew that that was what he wanted to make his career.

The Bisbee Press was a typical, small, country job printing shop of the early-twentieth century (Figures 2, 3, and 4). Bisbee had started it in 1927 to supplement his farm income, thereby carrying on a great old New England tradition where farmers added a second trade to increase their winter activity and revenue. The Bisbee Press occupied a single room in a farm building and was equipped with two Golding hand presses, a Kluge, and Miehle Vertical. There was a variety of generally undistinguished type in relatively small quantities. If Benjamin Franklin had walked in, he would have instantly recognized and understood much of what he saw in the shop, including the smell of printers’ ink mingled with the smell of cow manure and chickens scratching around the yard. There was no running water, and the shop was heated by coal and wood stoves. The product was not much different from much of Franklin’s work: business forms, notices, labels, announcements, and cards.

By the summer of that first year, Rocky had developed a good working relationship with Mr. Bisbee, while realizing that there was a good deal more to learn about the “black art” than Bisbee could teach him. Accordingly, he entered Dartmouth College and studied with Ray Nash, a highly regarded professor of the graphic arts and history of printing. Under the tutelage of Nash, Rocky acquired knowledge of and appreciation for the classic typefaces of the past, the printed book as a work of art as well as a useful product, and the understanding that printing could be practiced as an art as well as a trade. While at Dartmouth, he worked part time at a local printing shop and kept in regular communication with Bisbee, working with him during vacations. He learned about the two methods of machine composition—Linotype and Monotype—and eventually persuaded Bisbee to purchase Monotype equipment. In February 1950, Ernest Bisbee died. Upon graduation that spring, Rocky hastened back to Lunenburg to carry on the jobs at the press that had been accumulating since the proprietor’s death. With cooperation of Mrs. Bisbee and the encouragement of Professor Nash, he was able to buy the Bisbee Press and the farm. With his wife Elizabeth to help him, he carried on the job printing business while planning and preparing for what he wanted to achieve with the press: the production of high-quality books....

It did not take The Stinehour Press long to begin producing substantial books of well over a hundred pages in editions up to hundreds and even thousands of copies. It rapidly developed a distinguished client list, including several departments in Harvard University, The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, The Boston Athenaeum, The Pierpont Morgan Library, Alfred Knopf, the Winterthur Museum, The American Academy of Arts and Sciences, The Mount Vernon Ladies Association, and many university presses and historical societies. Stinehour published its own quarterly journal, Printing & Graphic Arts, devoted to the interests of those involved with the book arts (Figure 14). It almost immediately achieved worldwide circulation with subscribers in almost every continent. It carried the name and an example of Stinehour work wherever it went, producing much business for the Press. It is noteworthy that libraries and organizations devoted to the book arts, including the Department of Printing and Graphic Arts at Harvard, The Typophiles and Grolier Club in New York, The Plantin-Moretus Museum in Antwerp, and many others used to producing excellent publications, increasingly gave their business to Stinehour. Every conceivable department of knowledge is represented within the production of the Press, and its books are to be found in every important research library in the country (including the old Early American Industries Association library)....

The success they achieved with Linoterm was of short duration. Before the decade of the 1980s was over, the digital age was upon us, and again the Press moved ahead with a Linotronic 300. Then the Macintosh came along with rapidly improving programs for desk-top composition and design. New typefaces especially for digital composition were being created or modified from classic faces by a host of designers, among them Stephen Harvard and Lance Hidy, members of The Stinehour Press staff.

All this investment in the constantly changing technology took its financial toll on the Press. In 1989, the old Meriden Gravure Company plant on Billiard Street in Meriden was closed, and such of the equipment that was still useful, including the four-color Heidelberg Speedmaster that had performed so well for Meriden over the years, was moved to Lunenburg. Several families moved with it to continue with the Press. The consolidation increased the efficiency of the operation, but the relentless need to invest in advancing technology outstripped the ability of that technology to pay for itself before it became obsolete. In 1998, The Stinehour Press was sold to James Crean of Dublin, Ireland. Crean was able to provide capital to pay off the debts and carry on for a while, but it soon became clear that the work of The Stinehour Press did not fit into Crean’s program the way Crean thought it would. In 2002, as Crean was contemplating liquidating the Press, a group of investors came forward to buy it back and keep it going. “It is an American treasure,” declared Robert McCamant, one of the investors, “and it must be preserved.” (8) They were able to extend its life for another six years, during which the Press was able to produce many fine books including the EAIA publica-tion, A Pattern Book of Tools and Household Goods, but ultimately the group realized that the jig was up and closed the doors permanently

I had two questions pertaining to this article:

1. Have all printing presses used by the LEC shut operations or are there still some in operation? Doing an online search for the Curwen Press (another printing press used by the LEC) informed me that it too had shut down (in 1984), although the Curwen Studio apparently continues to exist.

2. Which were the LEC's favorite printing presses, by which I mean which of them did they approach most often for producing the LEC books?

Jun 14, 12:20am

>1 blue.eyes:

1) and 2) One of the favorite later LEC presses which may still be functioning is the Wild Carrot Press which printed my copies of Break of Day, Diary of a Country Priest, The Flounder, Metamorphosis and others. I see they advertise letterpress printing, but I doubt this is for books, but for the wedding invitations, graduation announcements, etc., which Martha Stewart championed. The Grabhorn Press (which only printed Robinson Crusoe before they had a falling-out) morphed into the Arion Press, which is still active. Since the beginning of 2007, Giovanni Mardersteig's Stamperia Valdonega in Italy, which actually printed most of the books for the LEC issued under the Mardersteig aegis and was a Macy favorite, has been acquired by SIZ Industria Grafica and still is functioning. Another Macy favorite, especially in the earlier years is the Oxford University Press which printed several of the hefty 2-volume English classics such as Vanity Fair and Pickwick Papers. According to their website:

"We publish more than 6,000 titles a year worldwide, in a variety of formats. Our range includes dictionaries, English language teaching materials, children's books, journals, scholarly monographs, printed music, higher education textbooks, and schoolbooks"

Noticeably lacking are fine press books. I really can't name any that are still in business, or at least still in the business of producing fine press books. My Quarto-millenary is packed away right now, but I believe it provides a list of the presses used, and I think the number of titles printed by each.

Fascinating topic! This needs more research.

Editado: Jun 14, 1:40am

>2 Django6924: I really can't name any that are still in business, or at least still in the business of producing fine press books.

Some useful information about the Press of A. Colish, which produced the 37 volume Complete Shakespeare for the LEC:

This press merged with Laurel Printing, according to the writeup, but although it seems the new entity continues to be operational (under the name 'Americom Graphics Ltd') it is not clear whether they produce any fine press books.


Jun 14, 1:33am

>3 GusLogan: very sad to see this. It's not just about literature; the OUP was known for producing high quality science books.

Jun 14, 12:04pm

>1 blue.eyes: “Which were the LEC's favorite printing presses?”

Some of my favorite LECs were printed by the “Printing Office of The Limited Editions Club” itself. Starting with Lysistrata (sadly, one I don’t own) they printed Ulysses and The Holy Bible, among others. The Holy Bible, being both designed by George Macy and printed under his authority at LEC, seems to me to be possibly the closest we can get to his sensibilities and it is a treasured example of printing for me.

I looked in the Quarto-Millenary and there were no listings among the first 250 books (through 1954) of any printed by the Stinehour Press - did it go by a different name here?

Jun 14, 12:38pm

>5 blue.eyes:

Was it the content or the production values of these science books that were high quality? Were they actually printed in-house by Oxford? I just now looked at at least 20 Oxford University Press books here in my office, and (if I'm reading the copyright pages correctly) none of them were actually printed by Oxford; they're all farmed out to Biddles Ltd or Clays Ltd or Bath Press or CPI Group or printed in the USA.

Jun 14, 1:34pm

>7 cpg: When I said the OUP books are of high quality, I was referring to the content. I did not realize the OUP was contracting their science books to other printing presses. Of course this has been happening, which means the closure of the in-house printing facility, is not a big deal. I don't know whether all their science books were contracted to other print facilities; there is some reason to think this was not the case since the Cambridge University Press appears to have (or at least had till not long ago) its own in-house printing facility for science books:

Editado: Jun 14, 5:03pm

They've been contracting the printing of books out to various companies around the world. The main OUP printing shop was closed in 1989. A small operation, OxUniPrint, was kept to provide ephemera, newsletters, etc to the University itself and it is this which was just shut down.

Jun 14, 5:12pm

More germane to the OP, LEC used the Thistle Press several times. Press was located in NY and is not to be confused with a later press with the same name in New Mexico.

Editado: Jun 14, 5:48pm

An extract from another interesting article on Stinehour featuring an interview with the man himself:

The Stinehour Press’ big leap to prominence happened after it started a quarterly publication called Printing and Graphic Arts. Nash* was the editor and Stinehour Press designed and printed it and produced a bound volume at the end of the year. (That meant that two prestigious graphic arts quarterlies were published in Vermont in those days, as Woodstock’s Elm Tree Press produced an older, similar magazine called Print.)

Turning out a magazine that featured articles by prominent designers helped make Stinehour’s name.

“I was very quickly a significant player and I hired the right people,” Stinehour said. Talented designers and typographers were more than happy to decamp to Lunenburg, where Stinehour eventually assembled a staff of 40 people.

“I could get a Harvard graduate, Freeman Keith, he was a Greek and Latin scholar at Harvard,” Stinehour said. “I wasn’t even comfortable in English.”

Stinehour marched along, turning out books of enviable quality for decades until it was done in by the digital revolution.

“What I was doing was working in a 500-year-old activity that was mechanized,” Stinehour said. “Then digital came and it threw everything in a bucket.” Suddenly, book publishers could send a job to China and pay half of what Stinehour charged.

After a couple of mergers, the press closed in 2008, and Stinehour went to work in the Book Arts Workshop at Dartmouth.

One of Stinehour’s sons now has a digital print shop nearby, and Stinehour said he’s working on getting a letterpress machine going, too. At 88, he can’t move the press’ workings, but he can set type, he said.

The old farmhouse he and Elizabeth live in has low ceilings and wood paneling. In the dining room, where a side table might sit, is a proof press, with a heavy iron roller. There are shelves full of books and on the walls are alphabets of every description, carved and printed by such celebrated type designers as Stephen Harvard, incised in marble, or block printed. Over a fireplace in the sitting room are two written out by a great-grandson. The barn outside is now occupied by Great Bear Renewable Energy, a stove shop.

The Stinehour Press’ Latin motto is Haec Olim Meminisse Juvabit, a line from Virgil that translates as “In time to come you will enjoy recalling these things.”

“That was my life, and I do like thinking about it,” Stinehour said.

*Stinehour's professor at Dartmouth

Jun 14, 5:43pm

>10 Glacierman: tried searching for something interesting on the history of the Thistle Press but nothing came up (so far).

Jun 14, 10:05pm

Joh. Enschede en Zonen is technically still in business, but these days they seem to print postage stamps, certificates and custom banknotes.

Jun 15, 8:58pm

>12 blue.eyes: Thistle Press did 20 books for LEC, but I don't know much about them, either.

Jun 15, 9:49pm

>14 Glacierman: there is a little information about the thistle press on the website of the Grolier Club:

Bert Clarke was born in Richmond, Virginia in 1910. He started his typographical work in high school, laying out his high school yearbook. Clarke earned a BA degree from Johns Hopkins in Liberal Arts in 1931. After a brief early career in Tin Pan Alley as a music writer, Clarke went to work at Garamond Press in Baltimore in 1935. During World War II, Clarke served in the Coast Guard, and returned to typographical work at George Macy’s Limited Editions Club in New York City after the war. After a year with the Club, Clarke turned to freelance pursuits and happened upon an opportunity to complete a set of catalogues for the Frick Collection with then-partner, David J. Way. After the catalogues were complete, the two bought a press in New York and named it The Thistle Press. The two continued producing fine typography until 1970, when the press was merged with another. Clarke was then invited to join the press of A. Colish, Inc. as Director of Design and Typography. Throughout his career, Clarke also produced volumes for the Imprint Society, the Bollingen Foundation, the Grolier Club, and others. Bert Clarke died in 1994 in New York City, and was survived by his wife, Muriel Clarke.

Jun 15, 10:24pm

>15 blue.eyes: Nice sleuthing, thanks.

Jun 16, 12:53am

>15 blue.eyes: Thanks! 😀

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