Type & Press

A Staunch Letterpress Supporter

(Note: The last issue of Type & Press was published in the summer of 2000. Mr. Williams passed away on December 2, 2001. The article below was published in the American Amateur Journalist in 1998 and introduces Fred Williams—the printer and tells about his printing career and the beginning of Type & Press.) Presented by the Amalgamated Printers' Association.

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Fred at his Linotype. Photo taken in May 1998.

By Mike O’Connor

Only a first-rate psychic could have predicted that the initial issue of Type & Press, published by Fred Williams back in March of 1974, would mature into a premiere publication for letterpress aficionados. After all, back in March 1974 that first issue appeared as the typical four page 5"x7" journal found in any ajay bundle. Along with its appearance, the content had no resemblance to future issues of T&P. In that first edition, Fred lamented whether he ought to buy a Linotype or a "one-ton dinosaur," as he referred to it. He asked readers for help in making a decision to buy.

It’s not recorded how many replies were received, but it is known that he bought the Linotype, expanded his shop and in Oct. 1974 the second issue of Type & Press was published in a format closer to the current publication.

An editorial in the second issue opined how there were no longer any national publications dealing with the letterpresser is and his/her problems, etc. The T&P editor said they had forgotten the letterpress printer. Fred's editorial concluded by exclaiming, "...Type & Press will attempt to present news and fads of interest to ‘type stickers,’ ‘foot treadlers’ and printery enthusiasts coast to coast and border to border."

Celebrating T&P's 15th anniversary in spring 1989, Fred wrote of the early issues and what motivated T&P's beginnings: "Printed trade journals, heavily subsidized by electronic and photographic industries, limited their editorial content to duplicating and 'electronic publishing.' As the old craftsmen died, their unique letterpress skills would be lost forever.

"It seemed apparent that what was needed was some medium that could open lines of communication between letterpressmen, enabling them to buy, sell or trade appurtenances, as well as share techniques, sources of supply and world letterpress news."

Now, some 24 years later after that inaugural issue, there is little doubt that Fred has indeed accomplished all he set out to do with his publication.

How important is T&P to letterpress printers? Sample these delicious headlines from some of T&P's front pages over the years: "Meticulous Makeready is Key to Fine Printing;" "Joys of Setting Type By Hand!; " George Gordon’s ‘Dream’ Press;" "The Setting of Platen Press Rollers;" and "Moving Printing Equipment Easily." Ho-hum headlines to the uninitiated, but to devotees of letterpress they are "must read."

The lead article in Type & Press is always interesting and most of the time written by Fred. He researches his topics at the University of California’s Bancroft Library, the Kemble collecion of the California Historical Society, the Rare Books Section of the San Francisco Public Library and other collections near his home.

The lead article is only the teaser. Inside one finds "tricks of the trade" (little gems of shortcuts and advice on a variety of letterpress topics); letters from other printers commenting on a variety of letterpress subjects; sources for supplies and a healthy dose of classified ads pertaining to letterpress. Readers have played a big role in supplying Fred with ideas for articles, their letters and "tricks of the trade" hints.

While he’s getting out an edition, Fred says that he's thinking of the next issue and what to write about. When asked how much time he puts into each issue, his response was that he had no idea and didn’t really want to know! The production process must all be second nature to Fred by now. This spring Fred will publish his 100th issue!

Fred took a little survey of his readers in 1979 and the following subjects were most popular in order of preference: Tricks of the Trade, Presswork, Printing Techniques, Typography, History of Printing, Classified Ads, Private Presses, Collecting, Famous Printers and Bookbinding.

Early success was almost assured when Fred offered free classified ads. By the fourth issue he had a full page of ads set in agate type. A "potential" money-maker for Fred? Hardly. Today it costs only 5¢ a word to advertise.

Could this letterpress publication be a labor of love?

What would one expect to pay for this unique journal published quarterly and printed letterpress? T&P started out very reasonable—would you believe free? Initially Fred distributed it in the bundles of National Amateur Press Association, Amalgamated Printers’ Association and the American Amateur Press Association However, in Jan. 1977 he started subscriptions at the "hefty" price of $1 a year for four issues. Fred has hardly kept up with inflation, as today the subscription is only $5. Clearly a bargain for an eight page, 7"x'10" quarterly publication.

T&P readers knew that the publication barely broke even (probably lost money) and they would have none of it. The PIP Fund was started years ago.

When subscriptions come due, many readers send in their subscriptions plus some extra for paper, ink and postage (PIP). In each issue Fred recognizes those who have donated to the Fund.

No wonder the 700-800 circulation seems to keep growing. The growth doesn’t come from any promotions on Fred's part; he said it’s all word of mouth. Ask any promoter and he’ll tell you word of mouth is the best method of promotion. It also speaks volumes about what letterpress folks think of the publication.

Is this letterpress publication a labor of love?

Clearly all the writing, typesetting and printing is a labor of love for Fred but he said that at times the journal has proved to be an albatross. He has expressed the desire to get involved in other projects with his type and press but the next deadline for T&P is always lurking.

Sharing the "albatross" with Fred is his wife Betty who is the only other staff member. She has been Fred's consultant, proofreader and handles the mailing chores (which Fred said is a major job these days).

Over the years he has established a friendly relationship with his readers and it shows in the letters and tips he gets.

There were the few exceptions. Fred relates that one time he received a letter and 25¢ with a note that said, "Here’s an extra quarter, try to put out a better publication!" The guy is still a subscriber according to Fred.

As with so many of those smitten by type, ink and press, Fred’s baptism into the black art started at an early age.

He said he was a frequent visitor to his uncle’s printshop when he was only 8 years old. Even at that early age he had a yen to "publish" and had used rubber type, hectograph and mimeograph in the process. Fred took printing in high school and then in trade school and by the late 30s bought an 8"x12" Challenge Gordon and started his first shop in his parents' home. At that time he handset and printed a church bulletin among other items.

After WWII Fred worked in a number of commercial shops but was always on the lookout for an apprenticeship at a newspaper. In 1955 his patience paid off and he received an apprenticeship on a large daily in Oakland. He worked the Linotype, did ads and proofread. After 30 years he retired.

In 1965 he built his first shop in the back yard at his home. It was only about 5'x7'and housed his press and a type cabinet.

However, there were to be two more additions to his shop before completed and words cannot describe this unusual printshop. Photos can’t either as it was hard—no impossible—to get a good photo of the outside of the shop.

The second "addition" in 1973 to the printery was only 5x10 and ultimately housed his Linotype. In 1980 a 9'x10' addition was added to the rest and it now provides a roof for the 12"x18" Little Giant cylinder press on which T&P is printed. Looking at the shop from the outside one can easily detect three different additions making it a unique printshop. However, the shop is basically hidden from the house with beautiful landscaping and a fence.

Fred's present shop probably seems like a luxurious publishing facility compared to the early days of the publication. A number of the earlier issues had to be fed a page at a time into his 8xI2 Gordon. That's four press runs for the then four page issue. Now he runs two pages at a time on his Little Giant.

Asked if he would do it all over again, Fred said he didn’t think he would. We wonder. Over the last 24 years there has been many letterpress enthusiasts who can credit T&P for their added enjoyment to their letterpress avocation. Fred Williams did decide to fill a gap and promote letterpress printing and thousands are pleased that he did.

In retrospect, Fred feels that over the years the publication has played a small part in introducing newcomers to letterpress and in the rescue of equipment that was destined for the scrap yards.

Fred is indeed a most modest gentleman.

A labor of love you ask? How can it be anything else?

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Fred makes up pages for another issue of Type & Press.