Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Another Hornbook Production.

Another production run of authentic early American Hornbooks! After receiving an order for four, I decided to do an actual production run. What is a production run? Well, for one thing, it involves me putting on my woodworker's hat and locating the proper wood. Since these books typically took a student through all their early years of primary education, the wood has to be somewhat durable. But to keep costs down, I have to find a cost effective wood stock that would be both affordable for the client, yet durable for use. In a sense, in my mind's eye, I see these "books" as actually being used for their intended purpose. In this case, I traditionally use clear pine. Not construction grade, but furniture grade.

The process begins with cutting the wooden "blanks", which involves three basic processes: (1) cutting the wood into 3.5 by 8 inch squares. (2) Then running these squares through an angled table saw to notch out the handles. (3) Then sanding. What this photo shows are the blanks cut, but not filed and sanded as of yet. The sanding takes the longest time. After this, I might add a fourth procedure, that of staining the wood if called for. Sealing waits until the text is nailed to the blank, whereupon the whole is decoupaged together. Originally, animal horn was heated, separated, cut and affixed over the text with a lead frame held in place by nails. I omit the lead because these are being offered to schools. As it is, many of the samples I've seen used nails only without the frame, so either way is authentic. Animal horn is subject to decay and rot - which is why the actual 300 year old specimens that exist are almost never intact. Thus, I use a decoupage process which is safer, longer lasting, yet retains the look of antiquity. The nails used with this run are copper. Iron was used as well as brass rivets, but copper oxidizes with that ancient greenish tinge, which is classic. These will age very nicely. Especially as the wood reddens with age.

At this point of the process, I begin the composition of the text which will be eventually printed and affixed to these blanks. The font used is authentic to the era, an early 18th Century Caslon, supplied by M&H Type Foundry, San Fransisco. The type is composed in three sections, or "charges". When the composition stick fills, the type is removed and lined up on a "galley" tray. After all the charges are compiled, and are ready to be mounted into the press's chase - which is an iron frame that holds the type in place - the assemblage is called a 'Forme'.

This is the first charge. Two more to come. The tool on the left is a slug cutter, which trims leads to the proper width.

This is a photo of the blanks and the finished product which I ran back in the early 1990s when I owned and operated "Heirloom Press" out of Palm Harbor, Florida. The design on these new Hornbooks will differ slightly to incorporate the "Printer's Cross", or the "Christ Cross", which became known as the "Criss Cross". These are crosses composed of four upper case 'I's, sometimes mitred, or sometimes composed together with a centre ornament. Also, the upper case letter 'O' in the Lord's Prayer is more authentic. Formerly, I used an ATF Goudy ornamental cap from 1920. This go 'round, I'm using a 24pt Caslon Capital, of the same era as the rest of the composition. Of course I include the archaic tall 's', which looks like an 'f'. These were used prior to 1800, a throwback to the ancient blackletter types. The tall 's' was used for the letter 's' at the beginning and middle of a word, never at the end.

That's were I am now. Printing will commence on the following day. It is a complex composition which can take a long time to arrange so it holds together in the chase without spilling out. It's a skill the curve of which I still reside. All in all, these eight Hornbooks should take me about five days to produce, including the various drying times. But it is worth it.

Hornbooks represent to me not only a valuable and important part of United States History and the first Colonial Societies that laid the foundations of our representative Republican Democracy, but also a product made in the United States, made using the original and authentic processes with American materials, using vintage iron presses, using a time honoured process requiring an unusual amount of attention and care to produce a quality product. This was the Hallmark of American Industry at one time. I intend to perpetuate that legacy. Q5 Letterpress' Hornbooks will never be made in China!

That's it for now. More to come. Stay tuned!

Good Providence to you in all your endeavours!


Q5 Studio & Pretty Good Letterpress
G. Johanson, Printer

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