About Jim Rimmer (part 3 of 3)

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About this story: this past spring, Robert McCamant traveled to Vancouver, B.C. to check out the thriving bookmaking community. The resulting article he wrote, “It’s Something in the Air” can be found at the Caxton Club’s website. This profile of Jim Rimmer is one of eight in the issue.


Jim Rimmer creating type on the pantograph. (photo: Robert McCamant)

(photo: Robert McCamant)

Jim Rimmer is a Vancouver typographer, printer, and designer. He is also one of the pieces of glue that holds the world of Vancouver fine printers together; countless times, I heard people say things like, “I had a problem, and Jim was able to fix it,” or, “I had no idea how I was going to get accents for the font, but Jim cut some for me.”

Rimmer was apprenticed to a Vancouver typographer, J. W. Boyd, in 1950. After his 6 years as an apprentice, he worked at composing another 6 years, but by then he could see the handwriting on the wall; there was no future in typography. So he went to night school to become a graphic designer, after which he worked at newspapers and design firms. He hung out his own shingle as a free-lancer in 1971, and never worked in someone else’s studio thereafter.

But metal type and letterpress printing interested him all along, and he started to accumulate equipment in his basement and work/play with it in his spare time. “In 1964 I started collecting like crazy. So many people were getting rid of type and letterpress equipment. Some of it needed to be saved,” he said.


Jim Rimmer’s Colts Armory. (photo: P22)

He has several presses, including the very large Colts Armory. When Rimmer got it, this rebuilt beast of a platen press was missing parts, many of which he machined or figured workarounds. It’s fussy and requires plenty of attention, but a full spread can be printed at once much faster than on a hand-cranked cylinder press. He also has a complete Monotype setup (including this caster , which lets him cast individual letters for handsetting and complete pages of text when driven by punched paper tapes. But the most unusual thing he has is a pair of pantograph machines, which allow him to engrave matrices for making new type faces. (I’ve seen working Monotype setups half a dozen times in my life, but the only pantographs I remember seeing were in books.)


Jim Rimmer at the pantograph machine. (photo: P22)

In fact, he even has a third pantograph in storage, a Ludlow Weibking pantograph he got from the late Paul Hayden Duensing Printer, typographer and teacher who inspired Rimmer’s handsome Duensing Titling , who had, a couple of decades earlier, acquired it from the Caxton Club’s own Robert Hunter Middleton, Middleton created over 100 typefaces while working for Ludlow Typograph Company of Chicago, most notably Eusebius, based on Nicolas Jenson’s Roman who was allowed by the Ludlow company to place them with deserving individuals. But unlike the ones Rimmer uses, the Ludlow one has no markings for setup, so it is much harder to use.


Detail of one of Jim Rimmer’s Monotype casters. (photo: Robert McCamant)

In the graphic design world, Rimmer was always good with a brush or pen, and he frequently hand-lettered logotypes A notable example is the logo for the Pacific NW based two sister band Heart or drew insignias. (“They called me a ‘wrist,’” he joked.) So it was not a big step for him to design typefaces. He tried a few in the era when the Photo Typositor was the king of setting headlines (the 1960s and early 1970s), but was disappointed that they did not sell particularly well because they were not the kinds of styles then in vogue. But in the digital era he has a huge number of typefaces to his credit. P22 sells more than 200 of his faces, distributed through 18 type families. Many of these are revivals of classic faces (some done first for Lanston or Giampa while others are entirely original. I have half a dozen of his adaptations in my font library (some well-known faces include Albertan , LTC Garamont, and Kaatskill), but didn’t realize he had done them until I spoke with him in Vancouver.

Here again, Rimmer goes one better than type designers I have known. He has not done just digital type, but metal versions of some of his faces. When he’s going to make a metal face, he first draws it by hand, then transfers it to the Ikarus program on the computer. That allows him to play with spacing and do trial settings to be sure it looks right in small sizes. He prints out outlines from the computer, and these are used to hand-cut cardboard ones. The cardboard outlines are used with the pantograph to create smaller lead matrices. A final pantograph step creates actual-size matrices in brass for use on the casters.


One of Jim Rimmer’s monotype diecases. (photo: Robert McCamant)

His most recent face, called Stern (in honor of friend and fellow typographer Chris Stern, who died unexpectedly in his 50s), is to be simultaneously released to the public in digital and metal by P22. The foundry has even made a video of Rimmer at work in his basement casting the metal. “They had a lot of fun shooting it,” he said. “My workshop is close quarters, and they had to be careful not to bump their heads or get into something hot.”

The big project front and center in his shop currently is his edition of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Right now all the pages of metal type are in cabinets around the room. “This one I’m having proofread four times. In the end, eleven typos were discovered in my last big book, which I consider an embarrassment. So this time I’m being as careful as I can be.”

The Tom Sawyer includes Rimmer’s lino cut illustrations—8 full-color, full page plus 38 small cuts—and uses his own typeface, Hannibal Oldstyle. The type is standing and he’s gotten the paper in (a cream-colored paper from Arches), so now all he’s waiting for is the completion of the proofreading. The edition of 75 copies has been in progress for over five years with many interruptions, but Rimmer hopes to be binding by summer’s end.

This is actually the fourth big book from his Pie Tree press. He did an edition of Dickens’ Christmas Carol in 1998, Shadow River: The Selected and Illustrated Poems of Pauline Johnson in 1999, and Leaves from the Pie Tree (the story of his life in typography) in 2006. And in between, there have been dozens of pamphlets and broadsides for just about every book-related event in British Columbia over a span of many years.

Pie Tree Press & Type Foundry

328 Eleventh Street, New Westminster, BC Canada V3M 4E2 / 604-522-5321

3 thoughts on “About Jim Rimmer (part 3 of 3)

  1. I have just been listening to the item on CBC this morning about Jim Rimmer and was interested to learn more about his work. Would love to see his work and will plan to drop into his shop some time soon.

  2. Jim and I were old friends. I met Jim in 1978, his graphic design shop called “The Stable” was located on the second floor of a three story brick heritage building at 411 West Cordova, in Vancouver’s Gastown district. I opened Colophon Books, next door at 407 West Cordova in a sister building, also on the second floor. We soon met and naturally his love of printing and my interest in fine books we had a mutual interest. Jim designed,illustrated and printed letterpress “Allison’s Fishing Birds” by naturalist Roderick Haig-Brown. It was done in a limited edition of 500 copies. It was Jim’s first book and also Colophon’s first. In the early 1980’s Jim printed several poetry broadsides and chapbooks for Colophon. As I sit here typing this comment tears are welling in my eyes as I remember that all this as done on a handshake. That was Jim Rimmer.

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