Bourbon With Paul Moxon

[ Installment 3 ]

Our Letterpress Friend chat today is with Paul Moxon. He is synonymous with Vandercook presses.  He is the resource behind the website vandercookpress.info, author of Vandercook Presses: Maintenance, History and Resources, and a printer of letterpress books and broadsides under his press name Fameorshame Press.

There is always much to learn from a conversation with Paul, who lives in Mobile, Alabama. 

Boxcar Press: Why Vandercooks and proofing presses?  What is the appeal and draw for you?

Paul: A forlorn SP15 in the corner of a printmaking studio was the first press to which I had access. The ratio of its footprint to the printing area was appealing. Experiment and production were satisfying and different than paste-up. In time, I found joy in teaching maintenance and making repairs. Sharing this knowledge with other printers has surprisingly become my life’s work.

Boxcar Press: Is there one defining moment that you can recall or point to that was the start of your printing career or business

Paul:  Learning phototypesetting and paste-up as work-study in college.

Boxcar Press: Tell us about mentors or printers that you admire or set you on a particular path? 

Paul:  There have been so many. During college, Jocelyn Dohm (founder of the Sherwood Press) always welcomed me at her charming little job shop and endured my novice enthusiasm. Librarians Jim Holly and Elspeth Pope introduced me to fine press books. At Alabama, Glenn House, then retired, piqued an interest in maintenance. Fritz Klinke let me explore the Vandercook archives. Ian Leonard Robertson (Slow Loris Press) and I shared similar work experiences. His old school presswork and design was crisp and effortless. Most of his equipment is now in my shop, and I feel his jovial presence every day.

Boxcar Press:  If you weren’t a printer or in the printing industry, what else might have been your career path?

Paul : A machinist

Boxcar Press:  That is not surprising. You have referred to yourself as an independent educator.  

What would you tell a brand new letterpress printer today?

Paul:  Visit many shops, libraries, and museums. Attend wayzgooses, talk with everyone. Print on every kind of press you can big and small. Print every kind of form; lead, wood, copper, magnesium, and polymer. Strive for best practice. Read everything, especially old technical manuals and catalogs. Don’t be discouraged by the high prices of presses. Save-up, be patient, you become discerning over time. or grumpy old naysayers. Mistakes will make you an expert.

Boxcar Press:  Tell us about a press you remember fondly (or not so fondly) or one you have now that you prefer to use?

Paul:  I’ve printed on other makes of proof presses, jobbers, tabletops, hand presses, and even a windmill. Each had something to teach me. (Someday I want to print on a Heidelberg cylinder and a Little Giant.) I love my Vandercook No. 4. It’s great for production and teaching maintenance. I’ve printed on, tuned up, or inspected thirty Vandercook models, including some rare ones—nearly a thousand in all. But there are still a few I haven’t worked with, such as the 30-26 four-color press. Hopefully, post-COVID.

Boxcar Press:  You have mentioned that you are fascinated by the vintage equipment and tools.  Tell us about one of the best or most used or most admired printing tools you can think of?

Paul:  Hard to choose: my loupe, paper thickness measure, and Align-mate are essential. But I love the elk-bone folder/plate lifter I made at Penland twenty years ago when I met Jim Croft.

Boxcar Press:  What is something people might not know about you that would surprise them?

Paul:  I can’t type, just hunt-and-peck. But I can handset type like a motherfucker.

Boxcar Press: What is your printing superpower?

Paul:  Being able to diagnose presswork and mechanical issues.

Boxcar Press:  Anything you want to reveal about a current project you are working on – even a hint or clue?

Paul:   Right now I’m into printing postcards. My last one is about the USPS and Trump enabler Louis DeJoy.

Boxcar Press:  What is that one project that you are always going to get to but it just never seems to get done?

Paul:  A book of three poems by a deceased, local author. I commissioned lino-cuts from Lauren Faulkenberry (Firebrand Press) a few years ago, but I fear that they may be drying out.

Boxcar Press:  Last question – Do you listen to podcasts or music in your shop while you create? 

Paul:  Music is essential. Big Joanie, Dinner Party, the Hu, and Idles and are in heavy rotation. The rest of the time I’m streaming KEXP.

That was an enjoyable time, Paul.  Thank you for the friendly chat and we’ll plan another.  Paul is also involved with the American Printing History Association, that encourages the study of the history of printing and related arts and crafts.  Visit his links to vandercookpress and fameorshamepress.

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